- Addiction and Devotion in Early Modern England by Rebecca Lemon
This volume traces changing understandings of addiction, demonstrating the concept's former associations with devotion, which the modern, clinical sense obscures. Lemon, a literature scholar, draws on multiple disciplines to argue her case, and her work should assist scholars in several fields.
Etymologically, the word derives from the Latin 'to speak'; an 'addict', in Roman contract law, was one sentenced, bound over to someone or something. In sixteenth-century England, addiction developed connotations of devoting oneself [End Page 224] to something. Addiction to the right thing was estimable. It could, however, involve compulsive abandonment, addiction as possession, inclining towards the term's present-day, pathological sense.
Lemon considers the word's application to one mode of addiction (in the modern sense), namely to drink, showing how the sense heads toward modern understandings, but she examines too its more intangible forms: devotion to God, fellowship, love, and so forth. She expresses hope that her investigation of alcoholism will stimulate research into other pathological addictions. No doubt it will.
The volume opens with a survey of the literature of addiction. This is admirably thorough, as are the endnote references. They represent an invaluable resource for anyone entering the field, although their comprehensiveness renders them a little daunting.
Then follows a set of four chapters, each devoted to an early modern play that features the word 'addiction', and whose action centres on addiction. Lemon uses each play to situate in its historical context one particular sense of addiction, while interpreting the play in light of the concept, advancing a reading not previously apparent. Her arguments are sophisticated and nuanced (though hard to reproduce in summary).
Chapter 1, for instance, contends that Marlowe's Doctor Faustus dramatizes the consequence of failure to commit, whether to God, the Devil, or any particular line of study. Calvinist theology represented addiction to God as heroic; Faust demands a contract from Mephastophilis because his willpower is insufficient to bind him by addiction alone. Failure to addict himself is what damns him.
Lemon proceeds to explore other aspects of addiction in Shakespeare's plays: to love and melancholy in Twelfth Night (examining its transformative power); addiction to fellowship in the Henry IV plays, where Falstaff turns to drink to overcome increasing rejection by Hal; perhaps most interestingly, in Othello, where Cassio's addiction to alcohol and Othello's to love are used to question an addict's responsibility for actions taken while intoxicated. Occasionally, Lemon possibly carries her argument too far; what she has to say is nevertheless always interesting.
A final section addresses shifting attitudes to health drinking, a practice imported from the Low Countries by soldiers returning from the Dutch Wars, between the 1580s and 1660s. Lemon seems apologetic for this chapter's different approach, but this is one historians may find especially interesting. Participation was, effectively, compulsory, producing drunkenness (and heading towards modern alcoholism). Voluntary or otherwise, health drinking entailed submergence of the individual within the general will. Lemon shows how secular writers, such as Jonson and Shakespeare, satirized pledging in the 1580s and 1590s; reformist pamphleteers later condemned it, increasingly stridently. In the 1630s, Cavalier poets embraced it as laudable: it created sentiments of unity and liberation among captive or disheartened loyalists. [End Page 225]
This is highly interesting, though Lemon may not appreciate pledging's full implications. She presents it as something disapproved of initially by both secular and godly writers. However, the situation was possibly more complicated. The Dutch Revolt pitted Protestant patriots, aided by England, against Catholic Spain, so soldiers' health drinking potentially had jingoistic, sectarian overtones. If these continued after pledging established in England, how might Catholics have responded? Jonson was certainly Catholic, Shakespeare possibly so: their wariness conceivably had a sectarian aspect. If so, did England's increasingly Protestant culture release puritans to condemn the practice on moral grounds, while its dissipating religious significance enabled royalists to appropriate it for...