East Midlands Early Modern Colloquium

Religion, Print and Visual Culture in the Early Modern Period [April 2011].

De Montfort University

The second East Midlands Early Modern Colloquium convened at De Montfort University in April 2011 after a three year hiatus. Delegates from Leicester, Loughborough, Nottingham, and Nottingham Trent joined home convenor Siobhan Keenan at the Clephan Building for an impressive set of papers. [Full schedule attached here].

Drama and Religion

A particularly powerful first panel was ignited by title and by subject. Ben Parsons (Leicester) opened with ‘Playing with Fire: The “Scandalous Farces” of Brussels, 1559’, a fabulous insight into drama in the Low Countries. A group of Rederijkers [stage rhetoricians] staged The Barefoot Brothers, an anti-Monastic play tapping into Lutheran doctrine of universal priesthood. They found themselves subject to numerous enquiries, but the author’s identity was defended by the company and by an audience determined to prevaricate in every possible way, regardless of their allegiance. The Cornflower, believing themselves not to have stepped outside of the boundaries, inadvertently caused a clampdown on performance laws.

Chloe Porter (Nottingham Trent), speaking on ‘Iconoclasts, Spectators and “Makers”’, argued that early-modern England saw a ‘warping’ of images rather than their outright destruction. Plays by John Lyly, Robert Greene and Shakespeare each demonstrated different forms of engagement and agency: defacement was important to Lyly’s Campaspe; Greene’s Friar Bacon showed an essential characteristic of the idol to be its brokenness; and Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, engrossing through its pressing dilemmas of touching and engaging with the statue, showed consequences of passive and active spectatorship.

Siobhan Keenan (De Montfort) presented on drama and religion in early modern Yorkshire, focussing on the Simpson Players, a largely Catholic entourage, to suggest that the theatre may have fostered a recusant culture. A certain amount of controversy was caused over interlude(s) that the players themselves appear to have added for performances to Catholic sympathisers, but the company showed themselves to be versatile, adaptable, and commercially focussed by scheduling performances around traditional holidays and by catering for other needs. Likewise, non-Catholics were also interested in this kind of religious drama.

Religion and the Body

Hermann Hugo – Pia Desideria (1624)

The second panel focussed more on the insular, thinking about the spatial, the devotional, and the corporeal. Catie Gill (Loughborough) demonstrated how the interconnected Quaker movement brought forth print communities from prison. Writing was shown to be every bit as important as the physical suffering endured through imprisonment and confined spaces. Quaker writing was fashioned as personal, even if intended for print, and it circumnavigated censorship through deistic measures and encryption. As such, Quakers integrated the purposes of print into their texts.

Paul Lloyd (Leicester) brought a different taste to proceedings by presenting on attitudes towards dietary extravagance in sermonic literature. The economics of consumption and survival led to calls of moderation (on Christmas Day 1596, no less), and saw gluttony become a recurring topic in early-modern sermons. In the 1630s, the Minister of Trinity College, Cambridge, declared that some were acting like Kings. The Duke of Buckingham’s feast for Charles I in 1625 had cost thousands. Even physicians were drawn into the argument, criticising ‘strange’ delicacies. Food was a cultural necessity for some, and became a cultural identity for others.

Anna Warzycha (Loughborough) discussed the body and mind in women’s religious writing of the Interregnum. Elizabeth Major, An Collins, and the anonymous Eliza’s Babes (1652) all show how the individual turned inside for consolation, and demonstrated suffering for purification of the mind. Spiritual torment was seen as a necessity for cleansing and recovery. Major was worried about the methods of correction; Collins shows how physical agony becomes internal suffering; and Eliza’s Babes shows the need for the body to resist delights. Whilst women were considered weak, they demonstrate strength and quality of thought to address their conflicts in learned fashion.

Keynote Lecture

Mary Ann Lund (Leicester) ended the day by questioning how print mediates the oral sermon into the written text. The 1640s saw the combined publishing of different categories of sermons. Though John Donne preferred the dramatic minute of a performative sermon, and Thomas Sparke noted that he would rather preach ten sermons than print one, the printing of sermons was about more than vanity. It allowed sermons to be received by those who were unable to hear in large crowds, and took sermons beyond their parish boundaries. While the written sermon was clearly not as persuasive as the performance, it allowed repeated viewing, more scrutiny and greater attention to detail.

The material text focussed on titles, locations, and even times of day for specific reference. Sermons used at court or related to the plague had marketable potential due to their occasions. Examination of Donne’s sermons also suggests a different rhetoric according to place and particular audience. Between these sensory experiences, we are drawn to ask: is seeing believing? Is hearing believing?

A summary of this event was published as: ‘Religion, Print and Visual Culture in the Early Modern Period: East Midlands Early Modern Colloquium 2011, De Montfort University’, Bulletin of the Society of Renaissance Studies, 28.2 (2011), 24-26.

Please also visit ‘A Long Winter’s Tale’ for summaries of:

  • Nigel Smith, “Andrew Marvell’s Sense of Humour: Wit, Evil, and Why We Should Read Him”, University of Hull, 24 January 2011.
  • Teaching the English Civil War (An English Subject Centre Event), University of York, 3 March 2011.
  • The British Milton Seminar, Birmingham Central Library, 19 March 2011.

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