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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: August ::
Re: Tudor Iconoclasm
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.1547  Monday, 21 August 2000.

From:           Clifford Stetner <
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Date:           Friday, 18 Aug 2000 18:15:47 -0400
Subject: 11.1522 Re: Tudor Iconoclasm
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1522 Re: Tudor Iconoclasm

Besides Ben Jonson, I think it would also be instructive (for both
questions of arteology and iconoclasm) to trace the progression from
Catholic mystery plays to Puritan morality plays.  Although this
transition began before the Reformation proper, it coincides with the
increasing anti-papalism beginning around the time of Chaucer and the
War of the Roses.  It seems clear that the rationale for substituting
moral allegories of Mankind and Everyman for mimetic representation of
Bible stories is analogous to that which replaced statues of saints with
biblical text on the walls of churches.  The charges that pilgrimages to
the shrines of saints, relics and the like were forms of pagan idolatry
co-opted by the Catholic Church could not have avoided the inclusion of
mystery plays which were indeed only slight modifications of pagan
seasonal ritual plays dating back to ancient times.

When Marlowe (a notorious reputed atheist) returned the morality genre
to a mimetic context, it could not have failed to raise the specter of
idolatry for the puritans.  The fascinating thing is that the puritan
claim that false Roman idolatry of images should be replaced by pure
scriptural text (translation of the Bible, stripping of the altars)
becomes complicated when the printing press brings the physical nature
of text itself into relief.  As Shakespeare emphasizes over and over,
words are images too, and can conceal truth as costumes can conceal
genders.

His demonization of Shylock and Angelo involves a rejection of the
principle of the "purity" of written text.  In both cases the image of
legal text is used to conceal the most impure motivations.  The
arteology here, I think, is that deceptive images employed properly in
the service of truth are better than "pure" images employed improperly
in the service of lies.

Clifford Stetner
 

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