Rape and Religion in English Renaissance Literature : A Topical Study of Four Texts by Shakespeare, Drayton, and Middleton
Sammanfattning: This study argues that Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus (1594) and The Rape of Lucrece (1594), Michael Drayton’s Matilda (1594) and Thomas Middleton’s The Ghost of Lucrece (1600) are, in ways hitherto not realised, topically concerned with the religious controversies in the wake of the English Reformation. This concern is discussed on a general level of interest related to religious attitudes and practices significant at the time of writing, and on a specific level pertaining to events surrounding the capture of the Jesuit poet Robert Southwell in 1592, which included the rape or seduction of a Catholic woman. Defining topical meaning from the complementary perspectives of intention and reception, I argue that, while all four texts are topical on the general level, Shakespeare’s and Drayton’s texts signal a topical concern also on the specific level. The study examines thematic, metaphorical and stylistic constituents of the texts’ topicality: oppositional groupings of characters reflecting contemporary “Catholics” and “Protestants”; the theme of rape in a religious context; the depiction of devotional practices such as tearful contrition and image-worship, including idolatrous and iconoclastic positions as well as anti- and pro-Catholic attitudes; references to contemporary persecutions; and influence from Counter-Reformation poetics via Southwell’s writing. While Titus Andronicus reflects the religious strife throughout the Tudor reign with allegorical persistency, I claim, the topicality of Lucrece is especially visible in the complex portrayal of Lucrece’s and Tarquin’s encounter in terms of incorrect devotional behaviour. It is suggested that Shakespeare’s texts criticise the religious politics of the contemporary rule. The study further argues that Drayton’s Matilda shows unreformed sympathies, and that Thomas Middleton’s The Ghost of Lucrece is satirically anti-Catholic.
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