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English Calvinism and the Crowd: Coriolanus and the History of Religious Reform

  • Peter Iver Kaufman (a1)

Late Tudor London comes alive when Stephen Greenblatt's acclaimed biography of William Shakespeare, shadowing its subject, takes to the streets. “The unprecedented concentration of bodies jostling … crossing and recrossing the great bridge, pressing into taverns and theaters and churches,” Greenblatt suggests, is a “key to the whole spectacle” of crowds in the playwright's histories and tragedies. To be sure, his little excursions in London left their mark on his scripts, yet he scrupulously sifted his literary sources from which he drew characters and crises onto the stage. He prowled around Plutarch and read Stow and Hollinshed on the wars of succession he chronicled. Nonetheless, “the sight of all those people—along with the noise, the smell of their breath, and their rowdiness and potential for violence—seems,” Greenblatt says, “to have been Shakespeare's first and most enduring impression of the city” in the 1580s and to have been the inspiration for the “greasy aprons” and “gross diets” of “tag-rag people” or rabble in his plays. There, onstage, the glory that was Rome and the grit of fifteenth-century England were “suffused less with the otherness of the past than with the familiar coordinates of Shakespeare's own present.” And familiarity bred contempt for “the sweaty multitude.” “All those people” were terribly, dangerously unpredictable or, as with Jack Cade's crowd in the second part of Henry VI, just plain dangerous. Cade stirred his prole followers to kill the city's more cultured citizens. Sinisterly self-interested tribunes—or so they may have seemed to some playgoers—swayed the crowd in Coriolanus against the play's protagonist, Rome's most noble soldier. And commoners could be “lightly blown to and fro.”

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1. Greenblatt, Stephen, Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare (New York: Norton, 2004), 169–70. For aprons and diets, The Tragedy of Anthony and Cleopatra, ed. Michael, Neill (Oxford: Clarendon, 1994), 5.2.210–12; for tag-rag people, Julius Caesar, ed. David, Daniell (Walton-on-Thames: Thomas Nelson, 1998), 1.2.257; for “lightly blown,” Henry VI, Part Two, ed. Roger, Warren (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 4.8.5556 (killing the cultured at 4.2.96–101; Cade, also known as the captain of Kent, died as a prisoner in July, 1450, a few months after the stirs of that year started in the southeast). For the tribunes in republican Rome, , see The Tragedy of Coriolanus, ed. Louis, Wright and Virginia La, Mar (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1962), 2.3.164290. References to acts, scenes, and lines from these editions of the plays are given parenthetically in the text. For contempt for the “sweaty multitudes” at the theater, see Duncan-Jones, Katherine, Ungentle Shakespeare: Scenes from his Life (London: Arden, 2001), 60 and 116.

2. Stirling, Brents, The Populace in Shakespeare (New York: Columbia University Press, 1949), 99 (sensed unconsciously), 120 (climate of apprehension), 151 (excesses of leveling), and 175 (tragic thoroughness).

3. Kermode, Frank, Shakespeare's Language (New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2000), 244 and, mentioning “daunting ambiguities,” 254. For reformers' ambivalence into the 1580s, consult Kaufman, , Thinking of the Laity in Late Tudor England (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 2004), 103–65.

4. Among others, Jagendorf, Zvi, “Coriolanus: Body Politic and Private Parts,” reprinted from Shakespearean Quarterly 41 (1990), in Coriolanus: Critical Essays, ed. David, Wheeler (New York: Garland, 1995), 239, for “despised carnality”; Munro, Ian, “The City and Its Double: Plague Time in Early Modern England,” English Literary Renaissance 30 (2000): 254–56; and Stirling, , Populace, 97150.

5. Gilby, , A Pleasaunt Dialogue conteining a large discourse betweene a souldier of Barwick and an English chaplain (London: [R. Schilders], 1581), C3v.

6. Greenham, , “A Sweet Comfort for an afflicted conscience,” in The Workes of the reverend and faithful servant of Jesus Christ, M. Richard Greenham, ed. Henry, Holland (London: William Welby, 1612), 104. For Greenham's long ministry in Cambridgeshire, see Parker, Kevin L. and Carlson, Eric J., Practical Divinity: The Works and Life of Reverend Richard Greenham (Aldershot, U.K.: Ashgate, 1998). For the prospects for worthy grave men in religious service, see instructions “for the better ordering and direction of ecclesiastical government” in Doctor Williams's Library, Morrice MSS B.1.276 and C.338–39 (hereafter, DWL).

7. Reformed playgoers? True, the puritans' anti-theatrical prejudices were often articulated and have been usefully studied, as has the puritan laity's tendency to ignore sermons and pamphlet literature warning that patronizing plays was tantamount to idolatry. See, for example, Heinemann, Margot, Puritans and Theater: Thomas Middleton and Opposition Drama under the Early Stuarts (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980); Whitfield White, Paul, “Calvinists and Puritan Attitudes under the Early Stuarts,” Explorations in Renaissance Culture 14 (1988): 4155; O'Connell, Michael, The Idolatrous Eye: Iconoclasm and Theater in Early Modern England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000); and Lake, Peter and Questier, Michael, The Antichrist's Lewd Hat: Protestants, Papists, and Players in Post-Reformation England (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2002).

8. For such support, Reynolds, Bryan, “‘What is the City but the People?’ Transversal Performance and Radical Politics in Shakespeare's Coriolanus and Brecht's Coriolan,” in Shakespeare without Class: Misappropriations of Cultural Capital, ed. Reynolds, and Donald, Hedrick (London: Palgrave, 2000), 112; and, for “uncivility,” Shrank, Cathy, “Civility and the city in Coriolanus,” Shakespeare Quarterly 54 (2004): 414–15. Also see Sorge, Thomas, “The Failure of Orthodoxy in Coriolanus,” in Shakespeare Reproduced: The Text in History and Ideology, ed. Howard, Jean F. and Marion, O'Connor (New York: Methuen, 1987), 235–37; and Hatlen, Burton, “The ‘Noble Thing’ and the ‘Boy of Tears’: Coriolanus and the Embarrassments of Identity,” English Literary Renaissance 27 (1997): 413–19.

9. Patterson, , Shakespeare and the Popular Voice (Oxford: Blackwell, 1989), 1618.

10. Patterson, , Voice, 120–46; Barton, Anne, “Livy, Machiavelli, and Shakespeare's Coriolanus,” reprinted from Shakespeare Survey (1985) in Shakespeare and Politics, ed. Alexander, Catherine M. S. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 6790; and Hadfield, Andrew, Shakespeare and Renaissance Politics (Stratford: Arden, 2004), 1417, 209–10, 178–81. For Hall's production—my favorite—see Bedford, S. K., “On Both Sides More Respect: A Very British Coriolanus,” in Coriolanus: Critical Essays, ed. David, Wheeler (New York: Garland, 1995), 339–41.

11. Leinwand, Theodore B., “Shakespeare and the Middling Sort,” The Shakespeare Quarterly 44 (1993): 300302; Bristol, Michael D., “Lenten Butchery: Legitimation Crisis in Coriolanus,” in Shakespeare Reproduced, 214.

12. Compare Thomas North's translation (1603) of Plutarch's Life of Caius Martius Coriolanus, reprinted in Shakespeare's Plutarch, ed. Skeat, Walter W. (London: MacMillan, 1875), 1619. Also see Chambers, R. W., “The Expression of Ideas—Particularly Political Ideas—in the Three Pages and in Shakespeare,” in Shakespeare's Hand in the Play of Sir Thomas More, ed. Pollard, A. F. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1923), 168–69: “Shakespeare hated and despised the tribunes in Coriolanus with a bitterness he rarely felt towards any of his creatures.”

13. See Tennenhouse, Leonard, “Coriolanus: History and the Crisis of Semantic Order,” Comparative Drama 10 (1977): 333, for “ultimate conservative” and threat; Marcus, Leah, Puzzling Shakespeare: Local Reading and its Discontents (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), 206, for narcissism.

14. Empson, , Essays on Shakespeare, ed. David, Pirie (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 118.

15. Sharpe, Jim, “Social Strain and Social Dislocation, 1585–1603,” in The Reign of Elizabeth I: Court and Culture in the Last Decade, ed. John, Guy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 200202; Archer, Ian W., The Pursuit of Stability: Social Relations in Elizabethan London (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 29.

16. Miller, Shannon, “Topicality and Subversion in William Shakespeare's Coriolanus,” Studies in English Literature 32 (1992): 287310. For “popular immiseration,” see Hunt, William, The Puritan Moment: The Coming of Religion in an English County (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1983), 4163.

17. Marcus, , Puzzling, 203–11.

18. “A Plot for Reformation,” in British Library (hereafter BL), Additional MS 48066, 5v–6r.

19. Chalmers Huffman, Clifford, “Coriolanus” in Context (Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1972), 139–50, 181–82, 221–22. But, for the nearly inaudible contemporary revival of republicanism, see Peltonen, Markku, Classical Humanism and Republicanism in English Political Thought, 1570–1640 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 5187.

20. See Walter, John, “A ‘Rising of the People’? The Oxfordshire Rising of 1596,” Past and Present 107 (1985): 101.

21. Pettet, E. C., “Coriolanus and the Midlands Insurrection of 1607,” Shakespeare Survey 3 (1950): 3442; and, for “intolerable strains,” consult Martin, John, “The Midlands Revolt of 1607,” in An Atlas of Rural Protest in Britain, 1548–1900, ed. Andrew, Charlesworth (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1983), 3336.

22. See Wilson's, Against the Grain: Representing the Market in Coriolanus,” The Seventeenth Century 6 (1991): 111–17. For “artist nerves,” see remarks culled from Georg Brandes's William Shakespeare (1895–96) and reprinted in Coriolanus, ed. David, George (London: Thoemmes Continuum, 2004), 272–73.

23. Also, in this connection, see Cefalu's, PaulEnd of Absolutism and the Consensual Nature of the Early Modern State,” Renaissance Forum 4:2 (2000): 134, where the case for the play's commitment to “a state platform of both negative libertarianism and paternalist centralization” seems to me far less clear and less compelling than arguments against the playwright's involvement with “rigidified class antagonisms” and “embattled, transitional ideologies.”

24. Oxford, Queens College MS 280, 167v.

25. For “immediacy,” George, David, “Plutarch, Insurrection, and Death in Coriolanus” reprinted from Shakespeare Survey 53 (2000) in Shakespeare and Politics, ed. Alexander, Catherine M. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 124; for “daring analysis,” Patterson, , Voice, 143.

26. BL, Lansdowne MS 17, 197r.

27. Collinson, Patrick, A Mirror of Elizabethan Puritanism: The Life and Letters of Godly Master Dering (London: Friends of Dr. Williams's Library, 1964).

28. See Luther's letter to the laity of Leisnig, , D. Martin Luthers Werke, kritische Gesammtausgabe (Weimar: H. Böhlaus Nachfolger, 1900), 11:412.

29. That was what reformers read in Norton's, Thomas translation, The Institution of the Christian Religion written in Latine by John Calvin (London: Vautrollier, 1578), 356r357r (4.3.15–4.4.2). For Petrarch's formulation of the “old saw,” cited here, see his Invectiva contra quendam magni status hominem sed nullius scientie aut virtutis, ed. Pier Giorgio, Ricci (Florence: Felice le Monnier, 1949), 15.

30. Kaufman, , Laity, 4347.

31. de Loque, Bertrand, A Treatise of the Church (London: Richard Langton, 1581), 39. The translator is perhaps best known as the author, with John Field, of the puritans' first Admonition to Parliament ten years before.

32. A Briefe and plaine declaration concerning the desires of all those faithfull ministers that have and do seeke for the discipline and reformation of the Churche of Englande (London: Robert Walde-gaue, 1584), 120–21.

33. Briefe and plaine declaration, 125–29.

34. Calvin, Institution, 228v–229r (3.7.10); Travers, Walter, An Answere to a supplicatorie epistle of G.T. for the pretended Catholiques (London: Tobie Smith, 1583), 283–85.

35. Workes of Greenham, 268.

36. Grindal's 1576 letter to Elizabeth is printed in Strype's, JohnHistory of the Life and Acts of the Most Reverend Father in God, Edmund Grindal (Oxford: Clarendon, 1821), 561–63.

37. Strype, , Grindal, 568 and 572. For “full persuasion,” consult Cambridge, Corpus Christi College MS 121, 149, for the early Elizabethan reformers' goals and compare Calvin, Institution 404v (4.11.1): “the power of the keies is nothing but the preaching of the Gospell.” For puritans and the prayerbook, Collinson, Patrick, The Elizabethan Puritan Movement (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967), 366–67.

38. Paget, , A Verie fruitful sermon necessary to be read of all Christians concerning God's everlasting predestination, election, and reprobation (London: n.p., 1583), A8r–B6v.

39. BL, Lansdowne MS 23, 20r.

40. Lambeth Palace Library MS 2006, 248r.

41. Penry, , A Treatise wherein is manifestlie proved that reformation and those that sincerely favor the same are unjustly charged to be enemies unto her Majestie and the state (Edinburgh?: Robert Waldegrave, 1590), E3vE4r and H4r.

42. Gilby, , A Pleasaunt Dialogue betweene a souldier of Barwicke and an English chaplaine (London: n.p., 1581), E8v–F8r.

43. See, for example, Gifford, George, A Briefe Discourse of certaine points of the religion which is amonge the common sort of Christians which may be termed the countrie divinitie (London: Richard Field and Felix Kingston, 1598), 2729, 4344.

44. Gifford, , Briefe Discourse, 130–31. Also, for the separatists, see Gifford's, Short Treatise against the Donatists of England whome we call Brownists (London: Cooke, 1590), quoted at 34 and 101; and his criticisms of their “anabaptisticall freedom,” in A Short Reply unto the last printed books of Henry Barrow and John Greenwood (London: Tobie Cooke, 1591), 18. For a splendid inventory and analysis of Gifford's views on lay reclamation, see Scott McGinnis, Timothy, George Gifford and the Reformation of the Common Sort (Kirksville, Mo.: Truman State University Press, 2004), 135–62.

45. Gifford, , Briefe Discourse, A3v.

46. Dent, , Plaine-Man's Pathe-way to Heaven (London: G. Lathum, 1637; first published in 1601), 145–46 and 224–27.

47. Dent, , Pathe-way, 266–69, 413–15.

48. Sutcliffe, Matthew, A Treatise of Ecclesiastical Discipline (London: George Bishop, 1591), 186–91.

49. Oxford, Bodleian, Tanner MS 79, 137r; The Works of John Whitgift, ed John, Ayre (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1851), 1:446–47; and Oxford, Queens College MS 280, 172v. Catholic polemicists also took note of reformed religion's “factious practice[s],” suggesting “evangelicall libertie” meant near constant quarreling; Wright, Thomas, Certaine Articles or forcible reasons discovering the palpable absurdities and most notorious and intricate errors of the Protestants' religion (Antwerp: n.p., 1600), B4r.

50. Fenner, , Defense of the godly ministers against the slanders of Dr. Bridges (London: Richard Schilders, 1587), 7071.

51. This example is drawn from the many offered by Suffolk puritan preacher Bownde, Nicholas, The Unbeleefe of St. Thomas the Apostle (Cambridge: Cantrell Legge, 1608), 6067.

52. Hooker, , Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, vol. 1–4 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 19771982), 1.1.1; BL, Harleian MS 6539, 76v, for parish senates.

53. BL, Additional MS 28571, 193r. For bicameral arrangements, see DWL, Morrice MSS B.1.468 and C.413, but also note Fenner, Dudley, Sacra Theologia sive veritas quae est secundum pietatem (London: n.p., 1586), 105v106r.

54. BL, Cotton Titus MS C VI, 19v–20v, for Howard's letter to William Cecil, discussed at some length in Kaufman, , Laity, 107–13. For Fenner, see BL, Lansdowne MS 30B, 211r.

55. Hooker, Laws, 8.6.8. Also consult Perrott, H. E. C., “Richard Hooker and the Problem of Authority in the Elizabethan Church,” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 49 (1998): 5660; and Collinson, Patrick, “Hooker and the Elizabethan Establishment,” in Richard Hooker and the Construction of Christian Community, ed. Arthur Stephen, McGrade (Tempe, Ariz.: Medieval and Renaissance Studies and Texts, 1997), 177–78.

56. Hooker, , Laws, 1.16.57.

57. Bilson, , The Perpetual Government of Christ's Church (London: Christopher Barker, 1593), 356–59; For divine enhancements, see Voak, Nigel, Richard Hooker and Reformed Theology: A Study of Reason, Will, and Grace (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 9798, 167–70, 196216.

58. Bilson, , The True Difference betweene Christian subjection and unchristian rebellion (London: Jackson and Bolliant, 1585), A2v–A3r. For Bilson on consent, review Lake, Peter, Anglicans and Puritans? Presbyterianism and English Conformist Thought from Whitgift to Hooker (London: Unwin Hyman, 1988), 129–31; and, for Bilson's “ranking,” see Richardson's, William article in the new Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 5:739.

59. Bancroft, , Dangerous Positions and proceedings published and practiced within the island of Brytain under pretence of reformation (London: John Wolfe, 1595), 139.

60. Bilson, , Perpetual Government, 182 and 368.

61. Bilson, , True Difference, 191–92; Bilson, , Perpetual Government, 248.

62. “The Lamentable Complaint of the Commonaltie,” in A Parte of a Register (Middleburg: Richard Schilders, 1593), 206–23 and 242–43.

63. Perkins, , “A Treatise of the Vocations and Callings of Men,” in The Workes of the Famous and Worthey minister of Christ … William Perkins, (London: John Legatt, 1616), 1:768–76.

64. London, Guildhall, MS 1002A, 184v, quoting the accounts for St. Mary, Woolnoth. Thomas Cranmer had stipulated forty years earlier that churchwardens themselves “be chosen by a majority of parishioners,” Synodalia: A Collection of Articles of Religion, Canons, and Proceedings of Convocations in the Province of Canterbury, ed. Edward, Cardwell (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1842), 1:122–23.

65. Lake, and Questier, , Lewd Hat, 584, and Judith, Kronenfeld, King Lear and the Naked Truth: Rethinking the Language of Religion and Resistance (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1998), 151.

66. For Alan Howard's run as Coriolanus in 1977–78, see Steible, Mary, “Coriolanus”: A Guide to the Play (London: Greenwood, 2004), 132–34.

67. Penry, , Briefe Discovery, 47.

68. The term is Collinson's, Patrick, The Religion of Protestants: The Church in English Society, 1559–1625 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1982), 199201.

69. Rogers, Richard, Seven Treatises (London: Thomas Man, 1610), 413. Elsewhere I discuss nonconformists' complaints, agreeing, as I have here, with Eamon Duffy's conclusion that “puritan attitudes to the ‘prophane multitude’ were both more complex and more positive than is often allowed”: Kaufman, , “How Socially Conservative were the Elizabethan Religious Radicals,” Albion 30 (1998): 2948; Duffy, , “The Godly and the Multitude in Stuart England,” The Seventeenth Century 1 (1986): 3155, quoted at 37. For “belief formation” and the supposedly “irreligious multitude,” see Watt, Tessa, Cheap Print and Popular Piety, 1550–1640 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 322–30; for Roger, , Kaufman, , Prayer, Despair, and Drama: Elizabethan Introspection (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1996), 140–42.

70. Greenblatt, , Will, 389.

71. The dispute at St. Saviours (1607) is chronicled in Stow's, JohnSurvey of the Cities of London and Westminster (London: A. Churchill, 1720), 2:910.

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