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date: 28 January 2021

Abstract and Keywords

John Bale's Three Laws (c. 1538) is driven and disabled by at least three powerful, interlocking paradoxes. A play that promises popularity is at every turn elitist; a play that draws on the morality play undoes ethics; and, not least, a play that wants to be a play is, as it can only be, designed to kill drama stone dead. Bale takes up drama to attack drama: he not only attacks the theology of the dramatic forms on which he draws so heavily, but he also attacks the much larger enemy of the ‘juggling’ Church in which he had himself been formed. Although no one will, most likely, ever be tempted to perform this play again, its very failures are nonetheless extraordinarily revealing of the larger paradoxes that drive the early English evangelical moment. This article explicates each of these exemplary paradoxes. It begins with two brief prologues: an account of Bale's career and a paraphrase of the play's plot.

Keywords: paradox, English evangelical movement, elitists, sodomy, rural superstition, ritual

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