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344 CHRISTIANITY AND LITERATURE The Aesthetics of Antichrist: From Christian Drama to Christopher Marlowe. By John Parker. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2007. ISBN 9780801445194. Pp. xviii + 252. $39.95. As John Parker's subtitle indicates, his book aims to describe the transition from medieval Christian drama to its early modern counterpart. Since he is not the first to write this history, it seems appropriate briefly to place his version of events in the context of his predecessors. The first and most influential effort of this kind was E. K. Chambers's The Medieaval Stage in two volumes (Oxford UP 1903), with an important two-volume successor in Karl Young's The Drama of the Medieval Church (Clarendon, 1933). As O. B. Hardison pointed out in 1965 in Christian Rite and Christian Drama in the Middle Ages (Johns Hopkins UP), Chambers and Young understood early English drama in evolutionary terms. Both critics assembled enormous amounts of compelling data, but they presented them in such a way as to support a preconceived idea of evolutionary development from "primitive forms" of popular, ecclesiastical, and local play-acting to the perfection of dramatic genius in Shakespeare. This idea, Hardison pointed out, is "assumed before the data are discovered and thus serves as an unconscious criterion for the selection" (9). Hardison has had some effect on recent histories of medieval drama, but Chambers's influence continues through the work of Robert Weimann in particular, who is still cited for his version of how medieval drama influenced its successor on the commercial London stage (Shakespeare and the Popular Tradition in the Theatre, Johns Hopkins UP, 1978). In general, macro-histories of medieval drama have given way most recently to micro-histories of material conditions surrounding early performance. As Pamela King noted in her review of The Aesthetics ofAntichrist, John Parker shows "surprisingly little interest in the material conditions of the theatres of these plays" ("Out of the cycle;' TLS, October 10, 2008, 26). The observation is accurate, but it misses the point: Parker is not writing a materialist history of playing conditions; he is writing a grand narrative of early drama-the kind of history that Chambers and Young originated. The version of history that Parker aims to "modify" is not the evolutionary view, in which he has no express interest; rather, it is a "Widespread view;' in his words, that "there existed prior to the Reformation some form of Christianity free at its core from psychological, social, political, and economic determinations; that before undergoing secularization (to the extent that it did), Christian drama must been purely spiritual-only later was it tarnished with ulterior motives" (ix). While I am flattered to have Parker attribute this "Widespread view" to me in The Devil and the Sacred in Early English Drama, 1450-1642, (Cambridge UP, 2000) it is a view I recognize in nothing that has been published, by me or by anyone elseeven Harold Bloom, to whom Parker also attributes this view (viii-ix). It is rather a rhetorical construction that Parker formulates in order to describe his way of BOOK REVIEWS 345 modifying it: "a pure spirituality does inhere in Christianity, but it is neither pure, nor spirit, because it is art" (x). Though Parker acknowledges Theodor Adorno for inspiring this insight (xn, 6), his real inspiration is Nietzsche-perhaps through Adorno but Nietzsche nonetheless, as in passing allusions to "Christian bad faith" (4), slave morality (24), the will to power (24, 29), and others too numerous to mention. Often, Nietzsche's influence is explicit: "Nietzsche's dream in The Antichristof a modern Schauspiel to rival the extinct drama of Greece, which would feature 'Cesare Borgia aspope' and give occasion for 'immortal laughter' is already enacted ... in Marlowe" (190). More accurately, it is enacted precisely in Barnabe Barnes's TheDevils Charter (1606), which Parker seems not to know, but the real point is that for Parker early drama reached its perfection not in Shakespeare but in Marlowe. To be sure, Parker's argument is not evolutionary, like that of Chambers and Young, so he avoids forcing the data into a preconceived developmental plan. Rather, for Parker, the possibility of Marlovian drama existed from...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2056-5666
Print ISSN
0148-3331
Pages
pp. 344-347
Launched on MUSE
2020-02-14
Open Access
No
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