Performances of the Sacred in Late Medieval and Early Modern England


Communities have often shaped themselves around cultural spaces set apart and declared sacred. For this purpose, churches, priests or scholars no less than writers frequently participate in giving sacred figures a local habitation and, sometimes, voice or name. But whatever sites, rites, images or narratives have thus been constructed, they also raise some complex questions: how can the sacred be presented and yet guarded, claimed yet concealed, staged in public and at the same time kept exclusive?
Such questions are pursued here in a variety of English texts historically employed to manifest and manage versions of the sacred. But since their performances inhabit social space, this often functions as a theatrical arena which is also used to stage modes of dissent, difference, sacrifice and sacrilege. In this way, all aspects of social life – the family, the nation, the idea of kingship, gender identities, courtly ideals, love making or smoking – may become sacralized and buttress claims for power by recourse to a repertoire of religious symbolic forms.
Through critical readings of central texts and authors – such as Sir Gawain, Foxe, Sidney, Shakespeare, Donne, or Vaughan – as well as less canonical examples – the Croxton play, Buchanan, Lanyer, Wroth, or the tobacco pamphlets – the twelve contributions all engage with the crucial question how, and to what end, performances of the sacred affect, or effect, cultural transformation.

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Tobias DÖRING: Introduction Paul STROHM: The Croxton Play of the Sacrament: Commemoration and Repetition in Late Medieval Culture Andrew James JOHNSTON: The Secret of the Sacred: Confession and the Self in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Thomas HEALY: Performing the Self: Reformation History and the English Renaissance Lyric Andreas HÖFELE: Stages of Martyrdom: John Foxe’s Actes and Monuments Andrew HADFIELD: James VI and I, George Buchanan and the Divine Right of Kings Verena OLEJNICZAK LOBSIEN: “Transformed in show, but more transformed in mind”: Sidney’s Old Arcadia and the Performance of Perfection Susanne RUPP: Performing Heaven: The State of Grace in Seventeenth-Century Protestant Theology Richard WILSON: Dyed in Mummy: Othello and the Mulberries Ina SCHABERT: The Lady’s Supper: Aemilia Lanyer’s Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum as a Female Celebration of the Eucharist Irmgard MAASSEN: Canonized by Love? Religious Rhetoric and Gender-Fashioning in the Sonnet Sabine SCHÜLTING: Tobacco—Sacred and Profane Notes on Contributors