Martyrs and Players in Early Modern England: Tragedy, Religion and Violence on Stage by David K. Anderson
David Anderson's book Martyrs and Players in Early Modern England: Tragedy, Religion and Violence on Stage presents an analysis of how Tudor-Stuart tragedy is influenced by the culture of Reformation religious violence. Specifically, Anderson is interested in whether martyrs were understood to be victims of religious violence.
In his introduction, Anderson explains to readers the doctrine of the persecuted church and the fact that 'the New Testament conception of the Church as a victimized minority and not a persecuting power' (p. 20) existed in early modern England. Noting that doctrinal influence could be found within what is usually thought of as secular theatre, Anderson sets out in subsequent chapters to illustrate the ways in which martyrdom was articulated.
The book itself is broken into five chapters, not including the introduction. In Chapter 1, entitled 'Violence against the Sacred: Martyrdom and the Doctrine of the Persecuted Church', Anderson expertly outlines the historical foundations of martyrdom and the prominence of noted martyrologist John Foxe's influential sixteenth-century Acts and Monuments of These Latter and Perilous Days, Touching Matters of the Church through a wider ideological impression. Indeed, Anderson notes that 'The Acts was used to fuel jingoism and anti-Catholicism well into the nineteenth century' (p. 62) and readers will note Foxe's various insights throughout his chapters.
In Chapter 2, Anderson moves from the histories of suffering and the concept of a persecuted church to an exploration of sacrificial crisis in 'The Tragedy of Gravity: William Shakespeare's King Lear'. Sacrificial violence is further explored in Chapter 3 ('Tragic Participation: John Webster's The Duchess of Malfi') in terms of spectator participation. There Anderson explores the character of the Duchess who is 'damned by the letter of the law […] but morally vindicated in the eyes of the audience because of the bravery of her death and the purity of her motives' (p. 133). Anderson foregrounds audience participation in understanding the sacrificial lies presented by her death.
Chapter 4, 'Tragic Complicity: Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus', explores the concept of human brutality and individual conversion, whilst Chapter 5 explores John Milton's Samson Agonistes, a work that Anderson considers to be 'the final tragedy of the English Renaissance' (p. 183). In Martyrs and Players in Early Modern England: Tragedy, Religion and Violence on Stage Anderson has [End Page 251] succeeded in presenting an analytical study of the influence violence had on these playwrights and important cultural figures.