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1 COMPARATIVE ? rama Volume 26Spring 1992Number 1 Windings and Turnings: The Metaphoric Labyrinth of Restoration Dramatic Theory Scott Cutler Shershow On the fourth of July, 1653, Oliver Cromwell addressed the first meeting of the so-called "Nominated" or "Barebones" Parliament, an assembly of 140 hand-picked Puritan leaders that represented what S. R. Gardiner calls "the high-water mark of Puritanism."! The Parliament was also a turning point in the progress of the English revolution from commonwealth to protectorate : after its predictable failure and dissolution on 12 December of the same year, Cromwell would add the formal title of Lord Protector to his de facto position as head of state. Yet the text of his speech on 4 July suggests Cromwell's sincere belief that this "assembly of Saints" could be a practical step toward a millennial future. He began by promising to remind his listeners "of the series of Providences wherein the Lord hath appeared, dispensing wonderful things to these nations from the beginnings of our troubles to this very day." But then, in a rhetorical reversal, Cromwell declined to describe or narrate those events because, as he explained: SCOTT CUTLER SHERSHOW, Assistant Professor of English at Boston University , is the author of Laughing Matters: The Paradox of Comedy and of articles on Renaissance and Restoration drama. 2 Comparative Drama You very well know, after divers turnings of affairs, it pleased God, much about the midst of this war, to winnow (if I may so say) the forces of this nation; and to put them into the hands of other men of other principles than those that did engage at the first. By what ways and means that was brought about, would ask more time than is allotted me to mind you of [it]. Indeed there are stories that do recite those transactions, and give you narratives of matters of fact: but those things wherein the life and power of them lay; those strange windings and turnings of Providence; those very great appearances of God, in crossing and thwarting the purposes of men, that He might raise up a poor and contemptible company of men, neither versed in military affairs, nor having much natural propensity to them . . . how God blessed them, [furthering] all undertakings, by his using of the most improbable and the most contemptible and despicable means (for that we shall ever own) : you very well know.2 Thus Cromwell discovers, in the pattern of events which he and his listeners have experienced together, a kind of labyrinth, comprised of "strange windings and turnings," and expressed with a rhetorical convolution that begins and ends alike with something already known, beyond what can be recited or narrated , some mystery beyond the history.3 As I hope to suggest, the figurai strategies of Cromwell's oration have an illuminating similarity to those of several other texts in a completely different field of seventeenth-century discourse. The revolutionary decades were, of course, also a turning point in the development of English drama, which, after the Restoration, moved with what has often seemed an easy confidence toward neo-classical styles of dramatic writing and theatrical production. The English theorists who pioneered this change also refer to the "meanders of the English stage," to dramatic spectators led "through turning and winding ways," and to plays "like Lab'rinths . . . design'd." On the surface of it, this figurai coincidence of Puritan rhetoric and Royalist dramatic theory may seem little more than an example of the characteristic seventeenth-century interest in analogy and paradox. After all, the myth, metaphor and image of the labyrinth had been conventional in Western culture since at least classical Greece, had been used as a Christian symbol since at least the Middle Ages, and, in seventeenthcentury England, appeared in the discourse of Catholics, Royalists , and Protestants of every variety.4 By the time Cromwell formulated his millenarian vision, the image of the labyrinth had already been applied (as Joseph Steadman summarizes) Scott Cutter Shershow3 "to the deceits of the senses, to the realm of matter, to the disputes of philosophers and theologians, to the subtleties of nature, to the ordeals of mystagogues and lovers, to the course of human life...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 1-18
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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