The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.1522  Wednesday, 16 August 2000.

From:           Tom Bishop <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Tuesday, 15 Aug 2000 15:59:32 -0500
Subject: 11.1509 Re: Tudor Iconoclasm
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1509 Re: Tudor Iconoclasm

I agree with Jack Heller that religious issues, including disputes over
the semiotics of the Eucharist and of images and icons, probably bear
somehow on early modern drama. How could they not, even, or especially,
when their direct discussion was restricted? My concern is that we need
to be very careful how and where we invoke them.  Their bearing on the
plays is likely to be as complex as the religious issues are themselves
in the period.  The presence of a variety of possible beliefs about the
presence of Christ in the communion is a good instance. Recusants had
one view, Grindal, Whitgift, Bancroft et al. another, radical Genevans
like Field and Cartwright another. Let alone what less learned people
may have thought about the matter, if they did (and leaving aside the
question of whether they would have brought such thoughts to bear on the
theater). Nor would I want to speculate too much on which of these views
were "minority" views. I want rather to suggest the complexity of the
landscape, and that it isn't enough just to point out that the semiotics
of the theater are something like those of iconoclastic or eucharistic
controversies.  The example of early modern charges of sodomy in the
theater is a good (if tangential) case of how the stakes need to be
measured carefully: if your definition of sodomy is "two men kissing"
and that's what you see happening on stage, then that's what you have by
definition. But I worry about arguments that go, crudely, like the

* in "The Spanish Tragedy", Hieronimo puts on a play in which what seem
to be (and are) stage-deaths turn out to be "real" deaths as well (but
not "really real" since the actors are still alive).
* at the same time, there are controversies over whether and how God is
"really" present in the Eucharist, and how "real" icons are.
* Therefore, the one is a cultural context that immediately illuminates
the other.

It seems to me that this may be so, or may not be, but a great deal of
subtlety about both the history of the moment and about the weaving of
plays is needed to make much of it. As Jack Heller says "The
significance of iconoclasm to the development of early modern drama
certainly merits further inquiry." But the net has to be woven very fine
to catch the right fish. (I think of the way Ken Gross's book treats
similar issues in Spenser as exemplary here.)

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