The 1547 decision permitting lay scripture reading had the effect of reintroducing scriptural debates into the public realm. Legalized lay reading led to a crisis of interpretation; when anyone could read the Bible, unified interpretation became vulnerable. The anxiety this crisis created spilled into the theater, leading to anti-theatrical writing articulating a theory of performance centered on problems of interpretation and gaps between signs and referents. Allegorical plays from the mid-sixteenth century navigate this anxiety by embedding interpretation in the text. As playwrights direct spectators toward correct interpretation, instructing them to see through performance and allegorical signification and to recognize both the real bodies of actors and the moral lessons presented in the plays, their plays echo the larger problems of interpretation wrought by lay reading.


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pp. 365-389
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