- Reviewed by
I am happy to report that the advertising Shakespeare and Religion: Early Modern and Postmodern Perspectives carries on its back cover does not overstate. Taken as a whole, the volume proves "stimulating"; it "push[es] scholarship on religion and Shakespeare past new historicism in productive, compelling directions"; and it enables readers to "[see] Shakespeare as an author deeply engaged with religious matters" (book jacket quotations by, respectively, Ewan Fernie, Phebe Jensen, and Alison E. M. Shell). Similar praise applies to Religion and Drama in Early Modern England: The Performance of Religion on the Renaissance Stage. Taken together, these collections provide an excellent overview of the richness of late twentieth-century [End Page 580] and early twenty-first-century study of religion in relation to Shakespeare and other playwrights and poets of the early modern period in England. Because many of the contributors are at the middle stages of their careers, and some still near the beginning, the well-researched and well-documented essays also offer a foretaste of useful work yet to come. A primary source of these essays' richness is that, as Anthony Dawson remarks in his useful "Coda" to Religion and Drama in Early Modern England, "an interest in the bracing intractability of the particular is clearly where we are these days" (235).
The editors of Shakespeare and Religion have done remarkably well to assemble so able a set of contributors. Ken Jackson provides one of the essays and, together with Arthur F. Marotti, contributes a helpful introduction. That introduction provides some aid to readers who will approach this volume with different purposes in mind. As Marotti and Jackson explain, the essays are presented in two distinct (if inevitably overlapping) groups. The first group focuses on locating Shakespeare's plays specifically within the religious culture of their author's age. The second examines "postmodern theological, ethical, and philosophical interpretation of the dramas" (2).
All the essays in Shakespeare and Religion provide information and interpretations worth examining. To a significant degree, all address "the bracing intractability of the particular." Although none is therefore "innocent of history" as the editors remark (2) and the essays in the second group provide suggestive interpretive statements along with useful historical information, I find the first set of essays the more consistently informative and lucid, as well as more directly applicable to the work of fellow teachers and scholars.
In the space available, I can offer only a few examples, drawn mainly from the first group, that suggest the rich and illuminating variety the entire volume provides. In "Two Jesuit Shadows in Shakespeare: William Weston and Henry Garnet," Robert Miola enables us to recognize that the reflexive anti-Catholic and anti-Jesuit tone discernible for centuries in studies of early modern English literature results from deliberate or unconscious biases that echo the Protestant side of the conflict. Miola's report on William Weston's successful treatment of a dying man, possessed by despairing fantasies of ubiquitous devils, reminds us that the Jesuits and their competitors often pursued identical pastoral goals, despite their violent hostility to each others' soteriology, Eucharistic beliefs, and ritual practices.
In "Decorum and the Politics of Ceremony in Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus," Gary Kuchar makes a remarkably persuasive case that the play's recurrent, interrupted ceremonies comment on or participate in contemporary conflicts over the ceremonies prescribed in the Book of Common Prayer. He focuses on the indeterminacy of decorum as that rhetorical and social standard was deployed to justify the ceremonies the Prayer Book rendered obligatory. In "Miracles and Mysteries in The Comedy of Errors," Richard McCoy challenges the...