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Esther Gilman Richey, The Politics of Revelation in the English Renaissance. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1998. ? + 252 pp. $37.50. by Helen Wilcox The title of this book is elegant but not definitively informative for the curious reader. Will this study, one wonders, open up a discussion of the book of Revelation with which the Bible closes, or is it more interested in the broader phenomenon of revelation (or revealed religion) through which the secrets of eternity are said to be laid open? Then, in what sense is this to be a study of "politics"? The possibilities of ecclesiastical polity, or prophetic political interventions , or the more twentieth-century notion of cultural politics, all spring to mind. And what is meant by the now troublesome term "Renaissance"? Does this refer to a historical period — and if so, what are its parameters — or is it meant to suggest a cultural movement with overtones of humanist elitism? Once I had got beyond the title-page of Esther Gilman Richey's work, I hoped to be able to answer some of these queries and construct a firmer image of the purpose of this study. On the first point, Revelation or revelation, the book's subject is clearly the broader idea of the prophetic or revelatory in early modern England rather than its specific biblical source, though, not surprisingly, Richey draws substantially on seventeenth-century commentaries and reworkings of Revelation. She also works closely with the manipulations and echoes of biblical prophecy in the work of early modern authors, though the nature of the study's biblical focus varies from chapter to chapter. The discussion of Eleanor Davies' prophecies, for example, leans heavily on apocalyptic texts, whereas Donne's sermons and sonnets are convincingly seen in relation to the book of the prophet Hosea, and Milton's Comus is set against a general backdrop of contemporary Church of England prophetic practice. The reader's second uncertainty, over what sort of "politics" is implied by the title, remains to some extent throughout the book. On the one hand, Richey is concerned to show how commentaries on Revelation gave the biblical original a charged political significance in early seventeenth-century England, particularly in matters of church policy. On the other hand, however, this study is a work of criticism firmly located in the tradition of literary study, organized around authors and texts rather than structured primarily according to political or ecclesiastical history. It is strange, therefore, that there 120Book Reviews is no specific mention of "texts" in the title; the work appears eager to claim a cultural generality which is beyond its scope. The period focus, too, is the early seventeenth century rather than what is normally meant by the English Renaissance, and the range of texts considered is more varied in origin and genre than the term "Renaissance " generally suggests. Apart from a brief consideration of Spenser's Redcrosse Knight, Richey deals with pamphlets and lyrics of the Jacobean and Civil War eras, focusing on their historical tensions, theological complexities, and massive potential for the establishment of prophetic voices. Prophecy and Revelation in Early Modern English Texts would therefore have been a more accurate (though no doubt less attractive) title for this book. An aside at the end of the introduction to her work suggests that Richey might have had Debora Shuger's Habits of Thought in the English Renaissance in mind when she devised her own title, possibly conceiving of her own work as a development of an aspect of Shuger's influential book. Both works concern the "habit of words" but in Richey's case she is keen to explore how one particular strand of "thought," the apocalyptic, was given shape in a variety of poems, sermons and prose treatises within the early seventeenth-century political and religious context. The link with Shugar, however, highlights a fundamental difficulty with Richey's approach: what sort of reader does she have in mind? Is this study intended as a contribution to a closed scholarly debate with scholars such as the learned Shugar as its implied reader? For this is not an easy book and is certainly not one to recommend for students in the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-1192
Print ISSN
0161-7435
Pages
pp. 119-124
Launched on MUSE
2010-10-13
Open Access
No
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