- Cultural Reformations
- List of Illustrations
- List of Abbreviations
- List of Contributors
- National Histories
- Literary Histories
- Enclosed Spaces
- The Eucharist
- The Saints
- Vernacular Theology
- When English Became Latin
- Heresy and Treason
- Naughty Printed Books
- Utopian Pleasure
- Poetic Fame
- London Books and London Readers
- The Reformation of the Household
- Active and Contemplative Lives
- Autobiography and the History of Reading
Abstract and Keywords
In the 1980s, New Historicist critics suggested that Renaissance theater was marked by the Reformation; specifically, that it expressed the vanishing of ritual and sacrament from ordinary people’s lives. More recently, critics like Sarah Beckwith have shown how pre-Reformation theater worked as ritual and sacrament by revealing the extent to which it was implicated in the jurisdiction of confession, penance and absolution for sin. This article revisits the question of how the Reformation abolition of annual mandatory confession affected theater. It qualifies both the New Historicist view of Renaissance theater as evacuated ritual and Beckwith’s view of the Protestant abolition of confession as an exteriorization of penance. Reading the first English Renaissance neoclassical comedy in English, Gammer Gurton’s Needle (c.1553-60), the article shows how profoundly its neoclassical concern with proof and evidence is tied in with a rejection of priestly confession and an invitation to parishioners and neighbors to be more skeptical and less credulous in believing the worst of one another.
Lorna Hutson is Berry Professor of English Literature at the University of St Andrews. She is the author of Thomas Nashe in Context (Oxford University Press, 1989), The Usurer's Daughter (Routledge, 1994), and The Invention of Suspicion: Law and Mimesis in Shakespeare and Renaissance Drama (Oxford, 2007). She is interested in the legal and rhetorical underpinnings of Renaissance literature, and is currently editing a special forum of Representations on Ernst Kantorowicz.
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