Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Over four chapters, this study extends and focuses recent critical work on religious sects in literature to examine five plays and one theatrical prose work from the late medieval period through the late seventeenth century in England. Specifically, this study charts the appearance and conduct of antinomians, or those whose faith in Christ is the sole guide for their actions and who eschew all outward behavioral constraints. Antinomianism is, in some ways, a logical step for newly empowered individual believers with no direct mediator between themselves and the Word, but it represents a dangerous potential for religious and social anarchy. For some of the characters I consider, antinomianism has been mapped onto them by modern literary critics precisely because their transgressive agency is so frightening to their contemporaries. For others, antinomianism is depicted as a positive mode of interacting with the unenlightened, but it is clear that these figures are allowed privilege outside the reach of mainstream believers. A negative parody of these normal believers is also represented in my project, and these characters' buffoonish misinterpretations and selfish motives negate any positive reading of their "liberating" antinomian belief.
All of these characters--whether positive, negative, or even truly antinomian at all--reveal a key anxiety about personal belief and the well-being of civic and religious society in the mercurial landscape of pre- and post-Reformation England and the atmosphere of social and religious uncertainty that preceded the English Civil War. As such, an attention to the interconnections between the works under primary study and those circulating in the culture at the time is crucial to accurately identifying and understanding the myriad shades of religious belief that populate the pages of literature and polemics alike. In part, my project works to create a more complete and nuanced picture of the religious and literary landscapes of early modern England.
Antinomianism, Drama, Early Modern, English, Medieval, Puritan
vii, 235 pages
Includes bibliographical references (pages 223-235).
Copyright 2013 Judith Claire Coleman