- Religious Ideology and Cultural Fantasy: Catholic and Anti-Catholic Discourses in Early Modern England
Professor Marotti's book makes a constructive addition to the literature on religious conflict in early modern England. He does not pretend to be breaking new ground in what has become a steadily growing field except to do precisely what his subtitle promises:set the two rival denominational discourses side by side for consideration. The primary value of the volume is his addition of Catholic sources to a discussion that among literary critics has been largely confined to their opponents, since Protestant propagandists, including such major figures as Edmund Spenser and John Milton, were free and even encouraged to be as vocal as they pleased, whereas Catholics who preferred not to share the fate of Robert Southwell had to be a good deal more circumspect; thus, there has been considerable speculation in recent years that Shakespeare may have been Catholic, and certainly the absence of hostility to the old faith in his works has been observed for centuries, but if he was a Catholic yet nonetheless wanted to keep working as a playwright in London, he had no choice but to be extremely careful. Literary texts are not Marotti's chief interest, [End Page 321] however; his chief interest is the polemical duels that regularly recur between the 1580's and the Glorious Revolution, the two termini of his study.
Between a short preface and shorter afterword, the book is divided into five chapters, four short ones devoted to various particular controversies and one last, longer one, longer than any two of the preceding ones together, where he, by his own account for the first time in the book, begins to point toward a larger historiographical conclusion as to the impact of anti-Catholic discourse in constructing an English nationalism in direct contradistinction to how the English had defined themselves less than two centuries before. Alert perceptions abound: his first chapter notes how a 1599 edition of Southwell "clearly Protestantized the verse"(p. 30). His second chapter, "Alienating Catholics: Recusant Women, Jesuits, and Ideological Fantasies,"discusses how the ever-demonized Jesuits were depicted as prosecuting their subversions via weak women and via Phineas Fletcher's short epic, The Locusts, or Apollyonists, arrives at the insight, useful to this Milton teacher, that "the seduction of Eve [in Paradise Lost] takes place in the context of anti-Catholic and anti-Jesuit polemic. A diabolical disguiser who is a skillful rhetorical seducer succeeds in enticing his female victim into idolatrous, superstitious practice and alienating her from both her husband and the faith in which they have grounded their marital relationship"(p. 65). The fit is astonishingly neat, and is plausible, given Milton's obsessive hatred of Catholicism.
In his preface he notes the discomfort of a questioner at a conference who wondered at his not "address[ing] the issue of whether or not they [the Jesuits] had done some or all of the things of which they were accused"; in a "somewhat exaggerated reply,"he said, "I did not care what actually happened (the province of the professional historian) but rather that I was interested in what people thought happened, since this was at the center of the imaginings and of the polemical logic of the works I had examined"(p. 4). He here gets to the heart of the difference between the two disciplines, the one tethered to reality, the other to fantasy, but as a fellow fantasist of his, another inmate of the English-Department madhouse, I can't help but be a little disturbed (my only objection to his useful work) by the coolness with which he surveys a literature of oppression and execution, whether it is the individual slaughter of missionaries in the name of religious freedom or the protracted horrors visited upon Ireland by a religious bigotry enlisted to support a national antipathy and justify the worst excesses of colonial brutality. Scholarly objectivity...