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ness upon a female iconographical ┬®gure invite two reactions from
the beholder, one moralistic and one not: ┬®rstly, that her beauty
makes her monstrousness all the more reprehensible, and secondly,
that her monstrousness adds to her beauty. The ┬®rst reaction is the
one ostensibly intended by the controversialists, and it leads natur-
ally to the pronounced anti-aesthetic bias that has always been
recognised as a common characteristic of puritanism; but it would
be disingenuous not to admit that the second reaction, that which
The livid ¯ash 31
interested the nineteenth-century Decadents, is also invited by the
visual and verbal language of anti-Catholic controversy. The vivid
imaginations and the vicarious ┬± even prurient ┬± pleasures of
Protestant imagination served an urgent cautionary function, by
showing how temptation could be tempting. As Carol Weiner has
said, one of the ways in which Protestants expressed fears about
losing their self-control was by portraying the enemy as unusually
persuasive.33
Female beauty and horror culminated in the Whore of Babylon,
the most powerful anti-Catholic icon of all.

And I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet-coloured beast, full of names of
blasphemy , having seven heads and ten horns.
And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked
with gold, and precious stones, and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand
full of abominations and ┬®lthiness of her fornication:
And upon her forehead was a name written, m y s t e r y , b a b y l o n t h e
great, the mother of harlots and abominations of the
earth.
And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the
blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I wondered with great
admiration. (Revelation 17.3┬±6)

For a certain cast of Protestant, the Whore of Babylon was
inherent in all images and posed a perennial threat to one's spiritual
chastity. She epitomised the favourite Protestant theme of how
idolatry was akin to spiritual whoredom ( Jeremiah 3.9); and it is
almost impossible to overestimate her ubiquity and her synonymous-
ness with the Catholic Church during the English Reformation and
its aftermath.34 With the hieratic quality of an icon, and the beauty
and monstrousness of a mnemonic image, she represents icon made
idol.
Within drama, her presence is ubiquitous. She appeared on stage
in many Tudor anti-Catholic interludes and in Dekker's The Whore of
Babylon (1606),35 but she is also invoked by much of the language of
decadence and feminine depravity typical of Italianate tragedy, and
that invocation, sometimes only an innuendo, is enough to spark off
a gunpowder-train of pre-existing association. Within a context of
anti-Catholicism, an anti-Catholic frisson is potentially inherent in
any mention of hypocrisy, cosmetics or deceit. The idea of idolatry is
central to this; idolatry was held to be the Romish church's greatest
32 Catholics and the canon
sin, and is of all sins most appropriately conceptualised by the
techniques of iconography.
Having identi┬®ed the idol, iconoclasm has to be the automatic
reaction. Iconoclasm comprises a tearing down followed by a
breaking apart: whether by the active agency of the iconoclast
observer, or in passive mode by watching it collapse under disease. It
has often been argued of the iconophobic mode of thought in late
Tudor and early Stuart England that it deliberately stunted the
visual sense. The imagery of breaking challenges this; paradoxically,
it yields plentiful evidence of the Protestant visual imagination.
Protestants borrowed it from the very ecclesiastical traditions they
were condemning, since medieval manuscripts show enormous
pictorial fascination with the breaking of idols; images survive of
their symbolic execution, amputation of their hands and limbs, their
automatic shattering in the presence of holiness or their explosion
on the expulsion of the resident evil spirit.36 Both tearing down and
breaking apart may operate on the same ┬®gure: exposition followed
by an inevitable, almost mechanistic self-exposure.

ornament and hypocrisy
History has moved on from assuming that Tudor and early Stuart
England was free of religious imagery, or even that the reluctance of
the clerisy to condone it was systematic. But even to the moderate
iconophobe, anti-Catholic imagery occupied an ideologically unique
position: visualisation of it could be argued to be acceptable, since to
visualise it was to condemn it in its own terms. There were also
positive polemical bene┬®ts to visualisation. As Kenneth Clark has
pointed out, there is a need for religious iconography in order that
theological concepts may be crystallised and retained; and there is a
corresponding need for an iconography of religious polemic to give
imaginative substance to hatred.37 This iconography was perpetually
subject to addition and change, forming a capacious repository
which could be drawn on for images of hate. Peter Lake has said:
`The Protestant image of popery allowed a number of disparate
phenomena to be associated to form a unitary thing or force [which]
could then be located within a certain eschatological framework.' 38
The habit of extrapolation from an icon, using re¯ection upon it
to lead the mind onto a number of moral messages, could bring
about an accretion of attributes centring around the iconic ┬®gure, or
The livid ¯ash 33
loaded onto it. This is nowhere more pronounced than in anti-
Catholicism. Protestant criticism of popery often concentrated on its
elevation of the unnecessary, claiming that its accretion of objects
and rituals had narrowed the arteries from God. Iconographical
criticism was loaded, indeed overloaded, with this message, and in
anti-Catholic visual narratives many Catholic objects are depicted
where one would be suf┬®cient to establish the point. In A Christall
Glasse of Christian Reformation, Pride is depicted as a monster with a
crest and a peacock's tail, shooting from a gun a crozier, an asperges
bucket, a candle, a cruci┬®x, a chalice, a rosary and a skull; the effect
of visual confusion is quite deliberate. The common medieval
depiction of idols with shields made in the form of a mask indicates
that, even for previous ages, to think in terms of idolatry involved a
sense of the multiplication of horrors.39
Much of this imaginative accretion one can describe as a highly
ornamental criticism of ornamentation. Like Babylon, Rome was a
city of consumer non-durables.
And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is
fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of
every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird.
For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and
the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants
of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies . . .
And the merchants of the earth shall weep and mourn over her; for no
man buyeth their merchandise any more;
The merchandise of gold, and silver, and precious stones, and of pearls,
and ┬®ne linen, and purple, and silk, and scarlet, and all thyine wood, and
all manner vessels of ivory, and all manner vessels of most precious wood,
and of brass, and iron, and marble.
And cinnamon, and odours, and ointments,and frankincense, and wine,
and oil, and ┬®ne ┬»our, and wheat, and beasts, and sheep, and horses, and
chariots, and slaves, and souls of men.
And the fruits that thy soul lusted after are departed from thee, and all
things which were dainty and goodly are departed from thee, and thou
shalt ┬®nd them no more at all. (Revelation 18.2┬±3, 11┬±14)
Babylon was compared with the numerous decorative ceremonies
and artistic tri¯es that the Church of Rome had accumulated over
time. Pamphleteers played up to this in such titles as Anthony Egan's
The Book of Rates Now Used in the Sin Custom-House of the Church and
Court of Rome [1670] and Titus Oates's The Pope's Ware-House (1679).40
The ┬®gure of a mountebank, purveying worthless wares and unreli-
34 Catholics and the canon
able medicaments while indulging in shameless rhetorical advertise-
ment, epitomises the notion of Catholicism as weighed down with
the unnecessary. Iconic overload meets iconoclasm in the actions of
stripping and of disclosure. Ideas on the perniciousness of ornament
would have in¯uenced Protestant reaction to such Catholic subter-
fuges as rosaries disguised as rings, and the fusion of ornament with
hideous inside may also have been reinforced by the popish caches
of vestments, rosaries and books found when pursuivants ransacked
Catholic houses. 41 In plays, the trope often appears in the com-
pressed form of the sick jewel. The Duchess of Mal┬® visualises
herself as having her `throat cut with diamonds' or `shot to death,
with pearls' (iv ii, ll. 203┬±5) and in the ┬®nal scene of The White Devil,
Flamineo exits to ┬®nd `two case of jewels' (l. 20) which prove to be
pistols.42
The trope permeated plays and poetry, popular writing and elite.
In the Spenserian Phineas Fletcher's didactic allegorical poem The
Purple Island (1633) the images of anti-Catholicism are iconographi-
cally displayed in a manner that emphasises their complexity and
accretiveness. In canto seven, which discusses sins and personi┬®es
them, the reader is introduced to Asebie, who represents irreligion,
and her four sons Idolatros, Pharmacus (Witchcraft), Haereticus and
Hypocrisie; their nurse, Ignorance, has a number of daughters,
among whom Errour is the most prominent, and the family is
accompanied by Dichostasis (Sedition), who has many heads, bears
armour and a shepherd's crook and wears a triple crown.
Idolatros is conceived along traditional mnemonic lines, attaining
monstrousness from a multiplicity of borrowed, disparate bodily
elements: `For to his shape some part each creature lent, / But to the
great Creatour all adversly bent' (p. 91). He is of gigantic stature,
oppressing the world, and bears the golden calf idolised by the
Israelites; his anti-Catholic nature and that of his family is made
explicit by the fact that he wears a `bloudie Crosse' on his breast,
`but the Christ that di'd / Thereon, he seldome but in paint ador'd'
(p. 92). Hypocrisie masks `a rotten heart . . . with painted face'
(p. 93) and elicits from the poet a catalogue of comparisons that is
worth quoting in full:
So tallow lights live glitt'ring, stinking die;
Their gleams aggrate the sight, steams wound the smell:
So Sodom apples please the ravisht eye,
But sulphure taste proclaims their root's in hell:
The livid ¯ash 35
So airy ¯ames to heav'nly seem alli'd;
But when their oyl is spent, they swiftly glide,
And into jelly'd mire melt all their gilded pride.
So rushes green, smooth, full, are spungie light;
So their ragg'd stones in velvet peaches gown:
So rotten sticks seem starres in cheating night;
So quagmires false their mire with emeralds crown:
Such is Hypocrisies deceitfull frame;
A stinking light, a sulphure fruit, false ¯ame,
Smooth rush, hard peach, sere wood, false mire, a voice, a name.
Such were his arms, false gold, true alchymie;
Glitt'ring with glassie stones, and ┬®ne deceit:
His sword a ¯att'ring steel, which gull'd the eye,
And pierc't the heart with pride and self-conceit:
On's shield a tombe, where death had drest his bed
With curious art, and crown'd his loathsome head
With gold, & gems: his word, More gorgeous when dead. (p. 94)


All the proverbial characteristics of hypocrisy are illustrated here:
an outside that belies the inside, unreliability as a guide, a state of
decay. The description of the family group as a whole and of
Hypocrisie in particular is a paradigm of anti-Catholic iconogra-
phical discourse, and demonstrates how such a discourse can be
constructed out of pre-existing topoi. Certain elements of it ┬± the
luminous decayed wood, for example ┬± can be paralleled elsewhere:
in Walter Raleigh's `Say to the court, it glows / And shines like
rotten wood', and in other poetic contexts where no religious
comment is intended.43 Within this context, however ┬± and context
is all-important in establishing the presence of anti-Catholicism ┬± it
echoes the wood worshipped by Idolatros with its alluring glitter and
collapsible rottenness. Mutability and deceit is further signi┬®ed by
the ignis fatuus, and the corrupt jewels of idolatry by the emeralds
over quagmires.44 One image of deceit is tied to another till all are
given focus in the description of Hypocrisie himself, enclosed in the
hieratic gold and jewelled armour of an idol, with an idol's shield of
horrors;45 this in turn has the dual signi┬®cance of tyranny, and of a
splendid skin concealing a loathsome inside. The tomb on the shield
is the ┬®nal paradox, since Hypocrisy is dead by de┬®nition, employing
outward show to conceal the fact that it has perished.
Tropes of hypocrisy ┬± rotten wood, false lights, the apples of
Sodom ┬± combine with evocations of idolatry and with speci┬®cally
36 Catholics and the canon
anti-Catholic satirical references, such as Dichostasis's triple crown;
and the poem speaks an anti-Catholicism which seems all the truer
because it is capable of being couched in proverbial images. This
passage towards overt and specialised polemic, from the proverbial
through the theological to the satirical, can be paralleled in Italia-
nate tragedy by the procession of image, moral environment and
historical or topical comment; if the third makes use of anti-Catholic
reference, and the second is suggestive of depravity, then the imagery
too takes on an anti-Catholic cast. A further point, so obvious that it
tends to be neglected, is that if a play is set in Southern Europe its
characters are Catholic, and it makes sense in the context of
seventeenth-century England to identify Catholicism as inspiring its
rhetoric of evil. The language of English domestic tragedy is very
different.
The personi┬®cations of The Purple Island also prompt a new ┬± or
rather, an old ┬± way of looking at Renaissance drama in which the
language of evil is dense and packed with images. If some of those
images are identi┬®ably tied to one individual ┬± as in The White Devil,
where the language of glitter is attached to Vittoria and that of
disease to Brachiano ┬± it seems clear that some effect of the speci┬®c
iconographical attribute is intended: the attribute may, in some
degree, even serve to represent the person when the person is
absent. Where the imagery is less attributable and more diffuse, the
effect is twofold: it affects the audience's perception of the environ-
ment of the play, and it tends to give a family resemblance to all the
characters affected by corruption. Like the family of evil personi┬®ca-
tions in The Purple Island they share common traits, with each
highlighting some aspect of evil in individual character. Even if a
play is not allegorical, the characters may sometimes walk in
allegory; and an image is a moment of insight and therefore of
revelation.

middleton's manifesto
The idea that to know idolatry was to know all ill, Margaret Aston
has argued, gave a new, explicitly Protestant emphasis to popular
theology. `Sometimes it seems as if all the major sins a Protestant
could catalogue came under the umbrella of this damning offence.'
All Protestants who believed in idolatry thought that it was the
distinguishing stain of Catholicism.46 The medieval interest in
The livid ¯ash 37
idolatry, centred round pagans and Mahometans, had collected an
iconography and inculcated an atavistic horror which was then, like
a burning-glass of damnation, redirected towards Rome. Though
something has been said of the idol's characteristics, it is now time to
consider its effect: an effect that was described in the ┬®rst piece of
writing ever completed by Thomas Middleton.
Critics have tended to ignore The Wisdom of Solomon Paraphrased
(1597), which Middleton published when he was seventeen.47 Yet
the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries frequently used translations
for personal and contentious ends; a paraphrase is more copious
than a translation; and, as with John Bale's The Image of Both
Churches [1545], which paraphrases Revelation, the form can offer
considerable scope for anti-Catholic inventiveness. Every Bible
verse in the poem corresponds to either one or two of Middleton's
six-line stanzas; it would tax ingenuity to spin the text out this long,
and so Middleton frequently departs from the text altogether and
writes according to the perceived spirit rather than the letter. It is
one of the characteristics of paraphrase that it has the authority of
the original, but serves the personal function of interpretation and
exegesis.
In Middleton's case, this is combined with a nascent creative
gift.48 Within and even outside the strict limits of a paraphrase,
Middleton's poem combines present creativity with statement of
future creative intention, and sheds considerable light on the plays
he was later to write. Beginning his career as a Protestant writer with
a piece of Protestant extrapolation, and sheltering his creativity
under the authority of the Apocrypha, may even have allowed him
an imaginative freedom.49 Reading The Wisdom of Solomon in its early
modern English translations, it is easy to see what attracted the
young Middleton. Its vigorous sententiousness offers admirable
scope for inkhorn rhetoric, which he did not fail to deploy; and,
more importantly from the present point of view, it is a Biblical locus
classicus for the condemnation of idolatry. Middleton ┬®nds himself
here in a tradition of Protestant writers, canonically exempli┬®ed by
Spenser and The Faerie Queene, who explored the perniciousness of
idolatry in imaginative verse. By looking at verse and drama together
it is possible to discern the theme as common to both; but whereas
the verse is explicit and didactic, the greater suggestiveness and
impersonality of the dramatic medium renders it more capable of
being dehistoricised by readers many centuries later. If The Wisdom of
38 Catholics and the canon
Solomon sets Middleton's plays in context, it must itself be set in the
wider context of contemporary verse.
Though idolatry did not inspire poetic genres, it made a regular
intrusion into genres already existing, and often dictated subject-
matter that offered scope for re¯ection on the image. This, for
instance, is Marston in his epyllion The Metamorphosis of Pygmalion's
Image:
Look how the peevish Papists crouch and kneel
To some dumb idol with their offering,
As if a senseless carved stone should feel
The ardour of his bootless chattering,
So fond he was, and earnest in his suit
To his remorseless image, dumb and mute.50
Tourneur's poem The Transformed Metamorphosis shows the same
preoccupation in its title, but unlike the story of Pygmalion's statue,
change here is for the worse. Marston emphasises the vanity of
idolatry and Tourneur its perniciousness, while both join in con-
demning the idol's lack of signi┬®cation.51 The poem begins by
describing changes in the earth which herald darkness and apoca-
lypse, and it is soon clear that Rome is the cause.
See, see, that mount that was the worldes admire,
The stately Pyramis of glorious price;
Whose seav'n hill'd head did over all aspire,
Is now transform'd to Hydra-headed vice:
Her hellish braine pan of each enterprice . . . (p. 59, ll. 57┬±61)
Tourneur proceeds to compare this pyramid to the Tower of
Babel ┬± that is, of Babylon ┬± and contrast its shifting structure with
the ┬®rm foundations of the godly. He begins his exposition of the
metamorphosis of the True Church of Revelation, clothed with the
sun, the moon and twelve stars, into the Whore of Babylon:
Her robe, that like the Sun did clearly shine,
Is now transform'd unto an earthy coate,
Of massive gold: because she did combine
Affection with the Moon; and did remote
Her heart from heav'ns book where her name was wrote.
The globe takes head, that was her footstoole set:
And from her head doth pull her coronet.
Her twelue starr'd glorious coronet, (which Jove
Did make her temples rich environrie:
And for the more to manifest his love,
The livid ¯ash 39
Encircled them with faire imbroderie,
Of sacred lights in ayre-cleare azurie.)
She is deprived off: and doth begin,
To be the coverture of laethall sin. (p. 61, ll. 134┬±147)

Tourneur emphasizes the woman's seductiveness as the cause of
her danger; she is compared to Circe, the enchantress and creatrix
of metamorphosis, and then ┬± perhaps alluding to the Protestant
poetics of Spenser ┬± to a serpent in female shape enticing the human
soul into a bower of bliss.52 Her opponent is Pan the pastor, the
Church of England in its uncorrupted state; his saviour is Elizabeth
I, and the poem ends with her apotheosis as head of the church:
Come, come, you wights that are transformed quite,
Eliza will you retransforme againe;
Come star-crown'd female and receive thy sight,
Let all the world wash in her boundlesse maine,
And for their paine receive a double gaine.
My very soule with heav'nly pleasure's fed,
To see th'transform'd remetamorphosed. (p. 74, ll. 596┬±602)

Though he ends on an optimistic note, the predominant impres-
sion left by Tourneur's poem is that of his fear at change and decay;
and he takes as many pains as a polemical pamphleteer to equate
this with the ecclesiastical innovations that have rendered Rome
poisonous. This is where the poems differ: whereas The Wisdom of
Solomon presents us with a fait accompli, a damned world which seems
predestined to damnation, The Transformed Metamorphosis shows the
process of transformation and demonstrates that it can be reversed.
Solomon's and Midleton's idols are dead and useless; Tourneur's is a
living church who has fallen through Luciferean pride, rendering
herself an idol and her devotees idolaters. Idolatry may be conceived
as worshipping either something dead or something degenerate;
degeneracy of an idol leads to its eternal death, and the worshipping
of dead idols to human degeneracy.
Middleton's presentation of the latter idea occurs in chapters
thirteen, fourteen and ┬®fteen of The Wisdom of Solomon. He adheres,
in keeping with the poem's genre of paraphrase, closely to the
structure of the Apocrypha book. Both chapters thirteen and ┬®fteen
are concerned to demystify idols, and this they do by showing how
they are constructed. In chapter ┬®fteen the craftsman who makes the
idol is a potter, a typological parallel to the New Testament verses
(Romans 9.20┬±3) interpreted within much Protestant theology as
40 Catholics and the canon
expounding the Divine potter's predestinatory power over human
clay. The potter is shown defying God in his craft, using his own
image of deceit to deceive, but being deceived by it in turn. Solomon
and Middleton stress that other deceits necessarily follow, and from
them misery.
In chapter thirteen the craftsman is a carpenter, and the idol
made of wood.53 It is here, for those who care to compare
paraphrase with original, that Middleton's creativity takes off; his
version bears very little relation to the text, as the idol that
Solomon describes is re-rendered in contemporary terms. Protes-
tants had an aesthetic focus for their theological condemnation of
Catholic iconodulia. Those who abhorred the practice of worship-
ping a breaden god, venerating images or paying homage to the
Pope had their loathing exacerbated by the visual opulence associ-
ated with these of┬®ces and ceremonies: precious monstrances,
draped and bejewelled statues and papal ponti┬®cals. Margaret
Aston stresses that precious images were considered especially
dangerous.54 These are the ideas that Middleton transposes into
Solomon's text.
Golde was a God with them, a golden God,
Like children in a pageant of gay toyes,
Adoring images for saints abode,
Oh vaine vaine spectacles of vainer joyes:
Putting their hope in blocks, their trust in stones,
Hoping to trust, trusting to hope in mones. (ch. 13, f.Q3a)

Chapter fourteen, which these two accounts of the beginnings of
idolatry frame, describes the miseries and sins of those who live in an
idolatrous world; the idol becomes both the genesis and the symbol
of all other evil. Tyranny in the medieval world was thought to be
directly related to idolatry, and this is stressed with regard both to
the tyrant and to his subjects; idolatry promotes both servility and
rebellion.55 If the carpenter in chapter thirteen is demonstrated `To
be the authour of his own lives paine, / To be the tragick actor of his
will' (f.Q4a) then chapter fourteen describes the behaviour of a
whole cast of tragic actors; and though paraphrase here is reasonably
close to original, the play they are acting in could well be an
Italianate tragedy. Samuel Harsnet's coinage daemonopoiia, referring
to diabolical Catholic actions, is the most appropriate word to
employ:
The livid ¯ash 41
For either murders pawe did gripe their harts,
With whispring horrors drumming in each eare,
Or other villanies did play their parts,
Augmenting horror to newe strucken feare:
Making their hands more then a shambles stall,
To slay their children ceremoniall.
No place was free from staine of blood or vice,
Their life was markt for death, their soule for sin,
Marriage, for fornications thawed ice,
Thought for despaire, body for eithers gin:
Slaughter did either end what life begunne,
Or lust did end what both had left undone . . .
O idoll-worshipping, thou mother art,
Shee procreatresse of a he offence,
I know thee now, thou bearst a womans part,
Thou nature hast of her, shee of thee sence:
These are thy daughters, too too like the mother,
Black sins I dim you all with inckie smother[.] (f.R4b-S1a)56


The particles of Catholic generation are loathsome because
permeated by idolatry. Though Middleton's idols may be dead ones,
the idol-worshipping that he describes as `shee procreatesse of a he
offence' has a supernatural reality. Were it not so, the worshipping of
idols would be merely futile; her presence makes it simultaneously
futile and pernicious. She is an abstract version of the Whore of
Babylon, as against Tourneur's concrete one. Both are fecund of
monsters: in Tourneur they are generated from her blood and
`noysome steeming breath' (p. 69, l. 417), and in Middleton they are
the `black sins' which spring from idolatry. The whole passage is
comparable to Rupert Brooke's description of Webster's world, one
of the phenomenological criticisms of revenge-tragedy identi┬®ed
later in this chapter: `life . . . seems to ¯ow into its forms and shapes
with an irregular abnormal and horrible [sic] volume . . . It ┬®lls one
with the repulsion one feels at the unending soulless energy that
heaves and pulses through the lowest forms of life . . . A play of
Webster's is full of the feverish and ghastly turmoil of a nest of
maggots.'57 Though Brooke describes without analysing, what he
says is relevant here: Webster and Middleton share a fear of the
autonomous energy of the idol.
In one of the most perceptive pieces of revenge-tragedy criticism
in recent years, Norma Kroll has analysed what Webster's dramatic
42 Catholics and the canon
view of the universe owes to Lucretius's De Rerum Natura.58 She
points to his use of Lucretian imagines to describe dreams, and her
insight is capable of much wider application. Imagines are the images
of things, sometimes translated as `idols'; and though Lucretius uses
the term imago non-judgementally, it had idolatrous connotations to
Protestant England.59 Like idols, imagines have dynamic powers of
their own: `like ┬®lms peeled off from the surface of things, [they] ┬»y
to and fro through the air', and `the outermost surface is ever
streaming off from things'. They appear as composite ┬®gures in
dreams, wandering about `in all directions . . . extremely thin; and
these when they meet, readily unite, like a cobweb or piece of gold-
leaf . . . enter in through the porous parts of the body and stir the ┬®ne
nature of the mind within and provoke sensation'.60 Lucretius's
omnivagant imagini must certainly have in¯uenced imaginative con-
ceptions of idolatry: sometimes directly, as with Webster, but more
often via the imprint Lucretius left on later commentators.
Middleton adds to this an intuition that there exists a symbiotic
mutual infection between creator and created, with terrible impli-
cations of sexual congress. With a distinction that has no basis in
Solomon, he is careful to differentiate between the male and female
elements in idolatry. Idol-worshipping is a she-procreatress, like the
Whore of Babylon, and gives birth to the active he-offence as the
corrupt church does to churchmen. As a very general rule ┬± but one
that is often broken by the major playwrights ┬± the Whore of
Babylon is suggested most insistently by the imagery surrounding the
female characters in a drama, while her masculine counterpart, the
churchman, ┬®gures in the plot and promulgates the idea of plotting.
She is the procreatress, he the offence; but The Wisdom of Solomon
emphasises her dependence on a male agent, to the extent that he is,
in turn, perceived as creating her. In chapter thirteen the male
carpenter carves an image referred to as `she', becoming thus a
`substantive, able to beare it, / And she an adjective, nor see, nor
heare it' (f.Q3b). The masculine noun de┬®nes, and the female
adjective decorates: `His sin deceiveth him, and he his sin' (f.T2a).
As craftsman he may carve her; as procreatress, she begets him. As
an object of worship she is barren, as a mother of mischief fruitful.
Solomon sums up his message in chapter 14.27: `For the worship-
ping of idols not to be named is the beginning, the cause, and the
end, of all evil.' Middleton, in contrast, uses this point in his
narrative to declare a manifesto:
The livid ¯ash 43
My pen shall be of┬®cious in this scene,
To let your harts blood in a wicked veine,
To make your bodies cleare, your soules as cleane,
To cleanse the sinkes of sin, with vertues reine:
Behold your cole-blacke blood my writing inke,
My papers poysoned meate, my pens fowle drinke. (f.S1b)61

But though Middleton then proceeds to announce that the
idolaters have been convinced of their error and that his castigation
has worked, the recurrence of the idolatrous craftsman in chapter
┬®fteen has a cyclical effect that he does not trouble to counteract.
The abiding impression is of a damned world, the damnation of
which is informed and voluntary, ignoring such moral outbursts as
Middleton's.
The Wisdom of Solomon is an explicit manifesto to justify creativity,
the most explicit that we have from Middleton's pen. In the following
discussion of The Revenger's Tragedy,62 the hypothesis is put forward
that the conception of idolatry formulated in The Wisdom of Solomon is
central to an understanding of the damned world of Middleton's
plays, and that a similar intuition directs Webster. 63 An idol is static,
just as imagery freezes action and the onrush of plotted language,
not advancing the plot but giving one an insight into it.64 Though
immovable in itself, it compels drama. Its aspect is fascinating,
demanding sacri┬®ces, genu┬»exions and prostrations; action is dic-
tated by the image, and rays out from it. There is both an
ambivalence and an appropriateness about idolatry in the theatre.


revenge and trial
The iconographical focus of The Revenger's Tragedy is the richly
caparisoned skull of Gloriana.65 Vindice tells the audience that she
was virtuous during her life, and that this was why she died at the
hands of the lascivious and frustrated Duke. But having been
ravished by death she is a whore, and the Duke dies when he kisses
her. The Duke himself invites religious comparisons for her: `Give
me that sin that's rob'd in holiness' (iii v, l. 138).66 Vindice is the
procurer or masculine substantive; she is the adjective whose
decorative capacity is evident from the point of view of stagecraft.
She is at once a dead virgin and the icon of whoredom. This is a
whoredom arrived at through the degeneration of death, a trans-
formed metamorphosis; and the Duke who has crafted her by
44 Catholics and the canon
murdering her is, like an idolater, undone by his own creation. She
has potential to make a man `falsify highways, / And put his life
between the judge's lips /To re┬®ne such a thing' (iii v, ll. 75┬±7). As
has frequently been recognised, these lines refer not only to high-
waymen but to those who pervert obvious rules of conduct, with the
judge in question being both human and divine.67 There is a parallel
between the manner of the Duke's death, poisoned by a kiss of
Gloriana's skull, and a passage in The Wisdom of Solomon:
Narcissus fantasie did die to kisse,
O sug'red kisse dide with a poisoned lip . . . (ch. 13, f.Q2b)

Narcissus is being used as an exemplum of the idolater who
worships himself in his own creation. 68 Middleton's embroidery in
the second line, which is not in the Apocrypha text and has no literal
basis in the watery grave of the mythical Narcissus, intrudes the
sweets-of-sin topos into the text.
The explicit language of iconography and emblem pervades The
Revenger's Tragedy, from the type-names of the characters onwards.
The pictorial conceit that Vindice presents to Lussurioso in iv ii,
depicting `a usuring father, to be boiling in hell, and his son and heir
with a whore dancing over him' (l. 85) elicits an objection from
Lussurioso, and Vindice's response that `some . . . had rather be
damn'd indeed than damn'd in colours' (ll. 99┬±100), making overt
the play's intention to utilise iconography for polemical and con-
demnatory purposes. On another level an army of conventional
personi┬®cations is invoked, Law, Opportunity and Nudity, the last
conventionally equated with simplicity and truth (i i, l. 55, 115):
Vindice describes bashfulness as `that maid in the old time, whose
¯ush of grace / Would never suffer her to get good clothes' (i iii,
ll. 13┬±14). The skull in its unadorned state serves a similar iconogra-
phical function, with that of memento mori added: Vindice apostro-
phises its eye-sockets as `able to tempt a great man ┬± to serve God'
(iii v, l. 55).
The eye itself sees best when about to be blinded. Spurio asks `Is
the day out o'th' socket, / That it is noon at midnight?' (ii iii, l. 45)
and Vindice, having torn off the Duke's eyelids, wishes to `make his
eyes like comets shine through blood' (iii v, l. 198).69 Weather adds to
the apocalyptic sense of doom: comets and thunderclaps punctuate
the revelatory masque-scene, while in the lodge where the Duke
makes his assignments it is `night at noon' (iii v, l. 19). Vindice sees
The livid ¯ash 45
Night as associated with the hangings of deceit, but threatens it with
disclosure:
Night! thou that look'st like funeral herald's fees [i.e. frieze]
Torn down betimes i' th' morning, thou hang'st ┬®tly
To grace those sins that have no grace at all. (ii ii, ll. 132┬±134)

Light, like ┬®re, can be hidden within: Vindice, as vigilante, adjures
his followers that they must `let . . . hid ┬»ames break out, as ┬®re, as
lightning, / To blast this villainous dukedom vex'd with sin' (v ii,
ll. 5┬±6).
Other metaphors of concealment and apocalypse are frequent,
giving a speci┬®c volumetric substance to secrecy, hypocrisy, evil and
death. Oaths which can be bought by bribery are `but the skin of
gold' (iii i, l. 7), and Vindice denies that his `outward shape and
inward heart / Are cut out of one piece' (iii v, ll. 9┬±10). Visualisa-
tions of the process can be con¯ated: offences `gilt o'er with mercy'
are compared to women `good only for their beauties, which wash'd
off, / No sin is uglier' (i ii, ll. 29┬±31). Hippolito says of Lussurioso
that he `began / By policy to open and unhusk me' (i i, l. 69) and, of
the concealment of the duke's death, Vindice warns that `murder
will peep out of the closest husk' (iv ii, l. 202). Gloriana's skull is a
`shell of death' (i i, l. 15), and, in addressing it, Vindice equates
reputation's fragile, enclosing nature with the substance of the skull:
`Known? / Few ladies respect that disgrace: a poor thin shell!' (iii v,
ll. 45┬±6).
The substance of reputation is speci┬®cally related to the loss of
virginity, in Vindice's description of how a virgin becomes a
prostitute: `Break ice in one place, it will crack in more' (iv iv, l. 81).
Vindice reproaches Gratiana that `in that shell of mother breeds a
bawd' (iv iv, l. 10). In terms of garments, `the faults of great men
through their cerecloths break' (i ii, l. 16) while the Duke speci┬®es
`Give me that sin that's rob'd in holiness' (iii v, l. 138). Vindice
loathes his inside when he is engaged in corrupting Gratiana: `turn
the precious side / Of both mine eyeballs inward, not to see myself '
(ii i, ll. 127┬±8). But the contradiction of outside and inside is fully
exempli┬®ed in the supposed diabolical possession of Gratiana. She is
proleptic of endless maternal shame and deceit: `All mothers that
had any graceful hue / Would have worn masks to hide their face at
you' (iv iv, ll. 65┬±6).
The loathsomeness of the inside is further suggested by metaphors
46 Catholics and the canon
of disease: Vindice tells the poisoned Duke `Now I'll begin / To stick
thy soul with ulcers' (iii v, ll. 171┬±2). These are reminiscent of the
metaphors of disease surrounding Brachiano in The White Devil.70
Muriel Bradbrook points out that the three chief clusters of meta-
phor in Women Beware Women are plagues and diseases, treasure and
jewels, and light and darkness; and all of these have an anti-Catholic
signi┬®cance.71 And whereas The Revenger's Tragedy is replete with
metaphors of concealment and revelation, Webster adopts the
slightly different emphasis of the sweets of sin: what Vittoria tells
Francisco, `I discern poison / Under your gilded pills' (iii ii,
ll. 190┬±1) can be paralleled at a number of points in his oeuvre.72
Perfumes as well as tastes convey the synesthaesia of Catholic sin.
Hypocrisy and the sweets of sin are again con¯ated in the exchange
between Spurio and the Duchess:
s pu ri o Had not that kiss a taste of sin, 'twere sweet.
d u c h e s s Why, there's no pleasure sweet, but it is sinful.
s pu ri o True; such a bitter sweetness fate hath given,
Best side to us is the worst side to heaven. (iii v, ll. 201┬±4)
In these intensely condensed lines, the gap between tasting
sweetness and apprehending bitterness is compared to the thickness
of the veil of deception: for the jaded sensualist, the core of the
pleasure is the shameful inside that heaven condemns. Sweetness
can even be a skin to loathsomeness: Lussurioso inquires whether
Vindice, in procuring him a new mistress, has `rubb'd hell o'er with
honey' (ii ii, l. 22).
The antitheatrical writer William Rankins described Impudence
as the presiding goddess of both Catholics and players.73 Certainly,
the personi┬®cation is invoked in connection with images. Vindice,
addressing Impudence with the litanic titles of `goddess of the
palace, mistress of mistresses' asks her to strike his `forehead into
dauntless marble' and his `eyes to steady sapphires' (i iii, ll. 6, 8┬±9)
and again, in the aftermath of the bloody masque, he exclaims `O
marble impudence!' of Lussurioso (v iii, l. 68). In her resolution to
prostitute herself to Lussurioso, Castiza declares to Gratiana that `I
am, as you e'en out of marble wrought' (iv iv, l. 108). The impudent
Lussurioso is seen as courting an idol's fate:
'Tis my wonder
That such a fellow, impudent and wicked,
Should not be cloven as he stood,
Or with a secret wind burst open! (iv ii, ll. 189┬±92)
The livid ¯ash 47
In Act ii ii, Vindice comments of Castiza's constant chastity that
`many a maid has turn'd to Mahomet / With easier working'
(ll. 28┬±9).74
Within The White Devil, the impudent Vittoria is cast as idol, and
the scene of her trial is a prolonged apocalypse that exposes not only
her, but those who are impeaching her.75 Monticelso's famous
speech on whores is exceedingly productive of anti-Catholic topoi
that identify her with the Whore of Babylon:
Shall I expound whore to you? sure I shall,
I'll give their perfect character. They are ┬®rst,
Sweetmeats which rot the eater; in man's nostril
Poisoned perfumes; they are coz'ning alchemy . . .
They are the true material ┬®re of hell . . .
Take from all beasts, and from all minerals
Their deadly poison . . .
I'll ┬®nd in thee a pothecary's shop,
To sample them all. (iii ii, ll. 78┬±81, 85, 103┬±4, 105┬±6)76

Vittoria is portrayed as the quintessence of all poisons, a cup of
abominations and the epitome or Theophrastan character of
whoredom: thus, she is pressed to death by a con┬®guration of anti-
Catholic topoi. Deadly to consume, she invites both the Protestant
interpretation of the Mass as whore, and, earlier in Monticelso's
speech, the inevitable comparison with the Apples of Sodom:
You see my lords, what goodly fruit she seems;
Yet like those apples travellers report
To grow where Sodom and Gomorrah stood,
I will but touch her and you straight shall see
She'll fall to soot and ashes. (iii ii, ll. 63┬±67)77

The clinching irony, inexplicable if an apocalyptic reference were
not intended, comes at the end of his description of Vittoria's
delicious living with his declaration: `This whore, forsooth, was holy'
(iii ii, l. 77).
Vittoria proclaims her innocence with a constellation of images
invoking light and diamonds, invocative of the superstition that
Catholics engaging in necromancy enclosed spirits in crystal. Samuel
Harsnet's remark in A Declaration of Egregious Popish Impostures that
Catholic magicians are reputed to carry around with them `their
familiars in rings, or glasses' (p. 13) penetrates to the heart of this sick
jewel. The imagery, because of and despite its simpler associations
48 Catholics and the canon
with good, serves to portray Vittoria as `a white devil, and to de┬®ne
the concept of a white devil as such'.78 The hypocrisy and dazzling
corruption of the Romish church are among the complex associations
which it invites; and the term itself, as has frequently been pointed
out, is one used by Protestant polemicists to refer to the Catholic
church. Thomas Adams used the phrase for his anti-Catholic sermon
The White Devill (1st edn. 1613), and a pamphlet narrating the
discovery of seven Catholic prostitutes in Covent Garden seems to be
alluding to Webster and to Vittoria in its title: The Seven Women
Confessors, or a Discovery of the Seven White Divels (1641).79
In the phrase `women confessors' there appears a familiar fusion
of whore and churchman, made more potent through the personi┬®-
cation of the church as Christ's bride, and by the scandalous
associations of confession with sexual union. This fusion also
appears in the trial scene, in the interplay between Vittoria and
Monticelso. The latter is the other main critical candidate for white
devil-hood, self-consciously so in recognising how he represents a
corrupt church.80 In Act iv i he comments that his black book of
offenders could potentially contain divines `But that I slip them o'er
for conscience' sake' (l. 60) while in Act iii ii he accepts that
preachers are `charm'd silent' by the power of the vicious (l. 251).
The double-edged power of a trial-scene in which a corrupt Catholic
churchman condemns the Whore of Babylon would certainly have
been augmented by the simple association of visual imagery with its
speaker. Vittoria, in her defence, drives home by dialectic the point
that he is characterising himself, and the church for which he stands,
quite as much as he is talking about her; and, from the beginning of
iii ii, she draws attention to the vestments that show his allegiance
and, by their colour, symbolise whoredom: `O poor charity! / Thou
art seldom found in scarlet' (l. 71). If he is not to be identi┬®ed as the
personi┬®cation of charity, the question remains as to what exactly he
does personify; and as Vittoria says, the insults which are directed
against her but fail to describe her re¯ect more on the prosecutor
than on the defendant:
These are but feigned shadows of my evils.
Terrify babes, my lord, with painted devils,
I am past such needless palsy. For your names
Of ``whore'' and ``murd'ress'', they proceed from you
As if a man should spit against the wind,
The ┬®lth returns in 's face. (ll. 146┬±51)
The livid ¯ash 49
The blurring of gender is deliberate, and echoed at other points in
the play: for instance, when Monticelso says of Vittoria `If the
devil / Did ever take good shape, behold his picture' (iii ii,
ll. 216┬±17) and when Lodovico compares Monticelso to a secretly
lustful bride (iv iii, ll. 142┬±8).81 If one identi┬®es Monticelso with Paul
IV, the title he assumes in the play at the papal election, rather than
with Sixtus V, whom his real-life counterpart became, there appears
yet another link between whore and churchman; the real Paul IV
conducted a drive against courtesans in Rome, and was a man of
whom a speech against whores would be most characteristic.82

the decadent image
Inevitably, many of the above quotations are over-familiar; for the
imagery of Jacobean Italianate tragedy, though not currently a
fashionable topic, has in the past been discussed again and again. As
Jack Landau has said, `Webster's imagery ┬± how many graduate
theses?'83 But the topic has inspired famous critics to ┬®ne confes-
sional writing, scaling heights of ┬®nely wrought suggestiveness which
would not seem out of place in the plays themselves. Swinburne and
Eliot brought to it the subjective insight of the creative writer.
Swinburne, commenting on Webster's ability to express `the latent
mystery of terror that lurks in all the highest poetry and beauty',
quotes ┬± as many do ┬± a nineteenth-century Frenchman: in this case
Victor Hugo.84 Eliot speaks of Tourneur's `intense and unique and
horrible vision of life' and the `characters which seem merely to be
spectres projected from the poet's inner world of nightmare, some
horror beyond words'.85 The idea of a horror beyond words
presupposes an ineffability that is more of a Romantic than a
Renaissance idea. But critics have, to an extent, been right to
describe their reactions to so suggestive a medium as Jacobean
Italianate tragedy, if only to testify that it is suggestive. Typical of the
¯avour of this fantasy is a phrase of Marcel Schwob's quoted at the
beginning of Allardyce Nicoll's edition of Tourneur: `Cyril Tourneur
naquit de l'union d'un dieu inconnu avec une prostituee' (p. 1).86
├‚
In Radical Tragedy, perhaps the most in¯uential recent discussion of
the genre, Jonathan Dollimore calls The Revenger's Tragedy `camp'.
This manifests an irresponsibility common to many critics of Jaco-
bean tragedy: a willingness to describe a phenomenon without
accounting for it, and to be titillated by, rather than analysing, the
50 Catholics and the canon
frisson it gives.87 His is an 1890s interpretation of the play, equating
homosexuals and Catholics as groups which dare not speak their
name, but which delight in shared mannerisms of concealment and
revelation. Though the equation of homosexuals with Catholics is as
old as anti-Catholicism, the assumption that ritualism is a distinc-
tively homosexual mode of behaviour belongs not to the Renais-
sance, but to the eras of Gautier, Huysmans and Wilde.88 One can
see, though, how the confusion has arisen. Canonical purging results
in loss of context, and therefore in reinterpretation; thus, Jacobean
Italianate tragedy has provided a dehistoricised metaphor of cosmic
horror for many generations. For Decadents, it has also contributed
to a language.
The rhetoric of French Romanticism and Decadence, tinctured by
the anticlericalism of the French Revolution, associated Catholicism
with gorgeous corruption.89 A recent study of the Decadent imagin-
ation emphasises its idea of Christianity as exemplifying mystical
rottenness and its use of Catholic themes for sacrilegious intentions;
moreover, it identi┬®es a number of the topoi identi┬®ed above and
below as anti-Catholic, such as the inherent evil of precious stones,
the perversion of the natural world, cosmic misogyny and monstrous
fruits.90 The decorative, violent and sacrilegious language of Jaco-
bean tragedy was found congenial by Decadent writers: Ronald
Firbank's Arti┬®cial Princess quotes from The Duchess of Mal┬® after
displaying a Felicien Rops Cruci┬®xion to her visitors, whilst a line
like `Miss Compostella swept by them, in some jewelled hades of her
own' has an unmistakable parodic kinship with both Jacobean
drama and Jacobean dramatic criticism.91 Like Webster, Firbank
hints at more than he says, but unlike Webster, these hints are
suggestive above all of a deviant sexuality. It is an inescapable irony
that the aesthetics of Puritan warning re-emerged in camp Catholi-
cism.
Allardyce Nicoll's relish in describing the imagery of The Revenger's
Tragedy owes something to the Decadents. Part of his effusion is
quoted below: at length, because it exempli┬®es two trends in
revenge-tragedy criticism. Though it rivals the tragedy itself in
horrid suggestiveness, it also shows how the belle-lettriste tradition
often gave rise to commentaries which, even though quite without
technical vocabulary, were phenomenologically accurate.92
The livid ¯ash 51
Sometimes, the images which constitute the truly cardinal quality of
Tourneur's verse merely thrill by their precision and insight . . . More
commonly, these images are so composed of light in darkness or of darkness
in light that they sear the spirit, they wound, they terrify; there is here a
kind of translucent quality which pierces through the worldly veil, which
throws the glare of eternity on the dark courts of the palace or creates
spiritual ┬®gures who move and have their spiritual being beside the all too
¯eshly denizens of the earth. Examples throng upon us as we read these
plays. Now it is Vindice's
The Dukes sonnes great Concubine:
A drab of State, a cloath a silver slut,
To have her traine borne up, and her soule traile i'th durt.
(Revenger's Tragedy, iv iv)
Now it is Castiza's
Are not you she
For whose infect persuasions I could scarce
Kneele out my prayers, and had much adoo
In three houres reading, to untwist so much
Of the black serpent, as you wound about me?
(Revenger's Tragedy, iv iv)
Or else,
c a s t i z a I have endur'd you with an eare of fire,
Your Tongues have struck hotte yrons on my face;
Mother, come from that poysonous woman there.
m o t h e r Where?
c a s t i z a Do you not see her? shee's too inward then. (Revenger's Tragedy, ii i)
The phrases lacerate and scorch, and all are symbolic of the general mood
of the tragedies ┬± a mood through which the poet tears back the dark
tapestried veils from villainy `When torch-light made an arti┬®ciall noone'
(Revenger's Tragedy, i iv).
Nicoll identi┬®es as most characteristic the quotations that
combine, in various ways, the characteristics of metaphorical apoc-
alypse and idolatry. In the ┬®rst, the hypocritical contrast between
state position and sexual immorality is emphasised by close juxta-
position (`drab of State', `cloath a silver slut') with the adjectival
phrase `cloath a silver' providing the element of dazzle, and the
parting `her soule traile i'th durt' the moral and religious dimension.
In the second, Gratiana in her role as bawd to Castiza is seen as
imposing the iconic attribute of a monster ┬± a snake recalling the
corruption of Eve93 ┬± onto Castiza; and she, though recalling herself
at her prayers, has been demonstrated as having taken readily to the
52 Catholics and the canon
role of a prostitute. In the third, the outward and the inward
Gratiana are perceived as ┬®tting closely together to make a hypo-
crite, and the inward `poysonous woman' is accorded, through
linguistic compression, the bestial and serpentine attribute of several
`Tongues'; Castiza's evocation of `┬®re' and her question `Do you not
see her?' suggest the obligation to perceive evil, while calling up the
dazzle that prevents perception. Nicoll's view of the poet's role
recalls the vows of the young Middleton in The Wisdom of Solomon to
become a vigilante against idolatry; and, in describing `spiritual
┬®gures who move and have their spiritual being beside the all too
¯eshly denizens of the earth' Nicoll chances on an important truth.
The spiritual ┬®gures can be demonstrated to be iconic: they `move
. . . beside' the play's characters because iconic language is used at
heightened moments to set those characters within a wider frame of
reference, linking one attribute of decadence to another, within
language and beyond. Given what has been said about the function
of gender within anti-Catholic drama, it is especially noticeable that
Nicoll's quotations all refer to female characters.
Most suggestive of all, perhaps, is Nicoll's own unconscious use of
the topoi of apocalypse: the `light in darkness or darkness in light'
that may `sear the spirit, . . . wound [and] terrify', and the worldly
veils that are either pierced through by the images' `translucent
quality' and `glare of eternity', or the dark tapestried veils which are
torn down by the poet to expose villainy under the arti┬®cial dazzle of
torchlight. It ┬®nds an echo in Swinburne, whose essay on Tourneur
begins with a long unattributed quotation: `For while they supposed
to lie hid in their secret sins, they were scattered under a dark veil of
forgetfulness, being horribly astonished, and troubled with sights . . .
Sad visions appeared unto them with heavy countenances. No power
of the ┬®re might give them light . . . Only there appeared unto them
a ┬®re kindled of itself, very dreadful: for being much terri┬®ed, they
thought the things which they saw to be worse than the sights they
saw not.'94 As the ┬®rst paragraph of this chapter demonstrates, the
tradition of chiaroscuro criticism continues.

conclusion: a damned world?
The perennial commonplace in Webster and Middleton criticism,
most important in a Websterian context, is that the imagery of both
writers illumines a fated and damned world, where humanity is seen
The livid ¯ash 53
to be `irretrievably prone to corruption and error'.95 Nature, too, is
infected by the sinfulness of man. Like the wood made evil by its
fashioning into an idol, the husbandry performed on nature dena-
tures and poisons it: Vittoria, for instance, is compared to a vine
manured with warm blood and bearing `unsavoury fruit' (iii ii,
l. 187). This corruption of nature ┬®nds many analogies in anti-
Catholic pamphlets: John Gee's The Foot Out of the Snare (2nd edn.
1624) accuses Catholic pastors of leading their sheep to drink at the
poisoned fountain of erroneous doctrine (p. 23), while at the begin-
ning of The Duchess of Mal┬®, Antonio invokes the emblem of a
fountain for the example of a prince's court:
whence should ¯ow
Pure silver-drops in general. But if 't chance
Some curs'd example poison't near the head,
Death and Diseases through the whole land spread.
(i i, ll. 12┬±15)96
Nature is as susceptible to Catholic corruption as arti┬®ce; when
metaphor burgeons with weeds on dunghills, rotten fruit and
poisonous waters, a damned world can be a blighted natural
world.97
Antonio's similitude comes at the beginning of the play, and
beginnings and ends have weighty interpretative implications within
a play's hermetic moral message. At the end of The Changeling, while
De Flores compares Beatrice-Joanna to Eve, `That broken rib of
mankind' (v iii, l. 146), Alsemero pushes her sin on to an apocalyptic
time-scale:
Rehearse again
Your scene of lust, that you may be perfect
When you shall come to act it to the black audience
Where howls and gnashings shall be music to you.
(v iii, ll. 114┬±17)
In Beatrice's and De Flores's unholy union, it is made clear that
they are but two elements in a damned world:
d e f l o r e s Yes, and the while I coupled with your mate
At barley-break; now we are left in hell.
v e r m a n d e r o We are all there, it circumscribes us here. (v iii, ll. 162┬±4)
├‚
Various reasons and various mentalites are invoked to explain the
damned world. Speaking of the nightmare oppressiveness of a
`hideously deformed universe', John Wilks describes the `Websterian
54 Catholics and the canon
cosmos in which a womanish and fearful mankind gropes blindly
towards a necessary fate it can neither see nor avoid' as being `a . . .
testament . . . to the sceptical and nominalist temper of the age'. L.
L. Brodwin believes that Webster thought the ef┬®cacy of Christianity
`a delusion, a subject for pathos or bitter satire', and the only moral
alternative a `stoic adherence to personal integrity'.98 Muriel Brad-
brook has observed that `Webster's God, unlike his devil, is a hidden
one', and Roma Gill, that without the bloody masque at the end of
Women Beware Women, the characters would be `trapped without
salvation in an in┬®nity of soulless intrigue'.99 More recently ┬± and
with more relevance to an anti-Catholic interpretation ┬± it has been
commented that the opening speeches in many revenge-tragedies
locate the horrors to come in the speci┬®c conditions of an Italian
city-state.100 But all these varied causes ┬± a medieval contemptus
mundi, a deterministic and fatalistic Augustinian Calvinism, scepti-
cism, proto-nihilism, and an `existential metaphysic of anguished
agnosticism' ┬± attribute to the authors of these dramas psychological,
philosophical and spiritual motives as contorted as Ferdinand's and
the Cardinal's plottings in The Duchess of Mal┬®.101 It is not to deny the
revenge-tragedians' medieval inheritance, nor that they have lent
themselves to powerful anachronistic interpretations, to comment
that the idea of a damned world has an obvious inspiration in
contemporary anti-Catholicism, which commentators have some-
times been too subtle to see.
In discussing the fatalistic element in the plays of Webster and
Middleton, critics have most often called the playwrights Calvinist.
If this epithet is to continue, its use needs to be substantially
modi┬®ed, stressing ┬± insofar as the two can be separated ┬± polemical
rather than doctrinal Calvinism, less the sorrows of predestination
than the inevitable damnation of the papist; though since Calvinists
were not unique in their emphasis on predestination, and most
Protestants, Calvinist or not, would have felt able to assent to
imaginative anti-Catholicism, it is perhaps more advisable to stretch
the idea, and the phrase, of Protestant poetics to accommodate the
livid ¯ash. But the term `Calvinist' has certainly been preferable to
vagueness in using the term `religion', or the common imprecision of
mixing up Catholicism with Christianity. Thus L. L. Brodwin
described the liturgical parody at Brachiano's deathbed in The White
Devil as being a `┬®nal mockery of Christian consolation', and
commented: `Though the word ``charity'' appears throughout the
The livid ¯ash 55
play, it is only in connection with this black mass that the phrase
``Christian Charitie'' is used. Christian charity can only be a
perversion ``when Churchmen stagger in't.'' '102 G. Wilson Knight
interpreted Act v iii of The Duchess of Mal┬®, set among the Abbey
ruins, as externalising the decay of medieval religion ┬± though not
explaining whether he meant religion in general or Catholicism in
particular.103 The sympathetic characters have been categorised as
sceptics or ┬± more anachronistically ┬± agnostics struggling for ethical
standards outside religion, somehow proleptic of the modern con-
dition.
Webster as sage of transgressiveness has perhaps been most
characteristic of recent criticism. In an appraisal of their own
criticism in their edition of Webster's plays, Jonathan Dollimore and
Alan Sin┬®eld assert that the `discontinuity of character and form' in
The White Devil `works to demystify and so challenge the power
structures of religion and the state', and that Webster is to be placed
in the context of `the problematic and provocative doctrines of
contemporary Protestantism'.104 Perpetuating the old confusion of
religion with Catholicism, their argument demonstrated for the
1980s that the plays can still serve as a metaphor for state evil:
coupled, in their case, with a teleological interpretation of Protes-
tantism as hardly religion at all, a kind of anti-Christian benign
anarchy. Neither seem aware of the fact that the Protestant establish-
ment in England erected the imaginative structure of a corrupt,
politicised Catholic church for reasons far from radical, and only
oppositional on the international level; but they show how, in a
secularist age, the myth of anti-Catholicism may serve as a ¯ail for
Christianity.
But without some degree of af┬®rmative action on the part of the
critic, this kind of misreading is likely to continue. To quote Robert
N. Watson, the `multivocal and indeterminate' nature of the trage-
dies of Webster and Middleton makes them endlessly susceptible to
interpretative criticism in a way which overtly polemical drama is
not.105 Prejudice is obvious in the one case, while in the other it is
given a spurious universality. Critics unhappy with othering, or even
Catholic critics, should perhaps object more to criticism which fails
to engage with these phantoms of prejudice. But the task of this
chapter ends here: to give a name to the nameless horror of Jacobean
tragedy.
chapter 2

Catholic poetics and the Protestant canon




The last chapter posed a very simple question: why it is that literary
critics have been largely unconscious of the anti-Catholic prejudice
which structures a Websterian or Middletonian vision of evil, and so
have performed the illiberal act of perpetuating it. This chapter
begins in a similar manner, asking why in university bookshops, in
the year 1998, Crashaw is absent from shelves where cheap editions
of Donne, Herbert, Vaughan and Traherne are easy to ┬®nd. Within
the critical consensus ┬®delium Crashaw has generally been regarded as
a leading poet of the period; and he has never disappeared from
anthologies, itself a sign that he is an unignorable presence. But
despite some eloquent recent defenders, to whom this chapter owes
a debt,1 reading the unanthologised Crashaw is still felt to be
supererogatory. He is called an isolated ┬®gure in English poetry: as
recently as 1993, the sixth ┬± revised ┬± edition of the Norton Anthology of
English Literature declared that `Richard Crashaw is a phenomenon
unique in Anglo-Saxon taste . . . his roots seem to be sunk less in
English literature than in Italian, Spanish, and neo-Latin writings',
and questioned whether it was worth importing the term `baroque'
into English literature `to take care of a largely isolated ┬®gure like
Crashaw'.2
When Spenser writes in Italian fashions, it enriches English
culture and helps to make Spenser a major poet; when Crashaw
does the same, he is called foreign. The difference ┬± an ideologically
loaded one, which continues to affect critical judgement ┬± is in the
type of fashion being imported. Crashaw is a baroque poet; though
post-war art-historians have problematised the traditional connec-
tion of baroque styles with Catholicism, and though recent literary
criticism has arrived at the idea of Protestant baroque through
Milton, the equation was simpler for critics in the more distant past.3
To them, the baroque was a Catholic fashion; and for many of them
56
Catholic poetics and the Protestant canon 57
┬± in a symbiosis of religious and aesthetic prejudice ┬± the baroque
equated to blowsy emotionalism and dropsical bad taste. Half-
buried, this is a prejudice which continues to affect the reputation of
baroque writers who are known to be Catholic.4 The suggestion that
Crashaw is best understood in the context of the literature of other
countries may seem, by comparison, a mild and non-judgemental
one; yet it can result in a kind of critical customs control where
desirable continental goods are waved through, and the purveyors of
undesirable ones deported. One could extend the analogy further:
because Crashaw himself left England when he converted to
Catholicism, he has been refused a re-entry visa. It is hard not to see
in this an outcrop of unconscious anti-Catholic prejudice.
But though Crashaw has been deracinated by the nineteenth and
twentieth centuries, he was certainly not isolated at the time. Among
his countrymen, he was in¯uential; plenty of English poetry is
Crashavian, both in print and ┬± as so often with Catholic verse ┬± in
manuscript, and some of it is discussed in this chapter. More
in¯uential still was his predecessor, Robert Southwell, to whom the
largest portion of this chapter is devoted; if Crashaw has received
more praise for his aesthetic merits, Southwell's verse was the more
powerfully infectious, to a degree that ┬± depite the powerful claims
for it made by Pierre Janelle in the 1930s and Louis Martz in the
1950s ┬± is still not adequately recognised. Beginning with Southwell
and ending with Crashaw, two poets who have strong claims to
canonicity, this chapter asks for a wide acknowledgement of the
tradition which they embody: a tradition that, in de┬®ance of the
Norton Anthology, one could term the English Catholic baroque.5
One manifestation of that tradition is their work within the genre
of tears-poetry. The poetry of tears was inaugurated far earlier than
the Reformation,6 and was not exclusively Catholic afterwards; but
it was highly visible within Counter-Reformation poetics, and
repentant devotional weeping was strongly and overtly associated
with both Catholicism and conversion at the period when Crashaw
was writing.7 Through Catholic in¯uence, it also became common
in mainstream poetic discourse. Though it would be a mistake to
claim that Southwell single-handedly re-introduced imaginative
religious poetry to England after the Reformation, the posthumous
publication in 1595 of his collection Saint Peters Complaint gave sacred
verse a de┬®nitive new direction, and helped to create a climate in
which non-biblical religious poetry became increasingly acceptable.
58 Catholics and the canon
The title-poem in particular inaugurated a publisher-led trend,
while the collection as a whole was one of the most important
stimuli to the urgent moral debates conducted by English poetic
theorists of the later 1590s. But as often with xenophobic prejudice,
foreignness could be ignored for long periods of time and re-
imputed at times of crisis; the topos was still suf┬®ciently identi┬®able
as Catholic to attract criticism for popery. This liminal quality
inspired two distinguished poetic converts from Protestantism,
Alabaster and Crashaw, to conceptualise repentance and conversion
as a dissolution into tears.

the invisible influence: robert southwell
First, though, comes Southwell; and again, a certain invisibility.
Though his lyric `The Burning Babe' is regularly anthologised,
Southwell's collected poems, like Crashaw's, have long been out of
print; extended studies of his work are rare;8 he seldom appears on
the undergraduate curriculum; and when general studies are written
of the religious poetry of the Tudor and Stuart eras he tends to be
left out. The reason is partly one of terminology. In the last few
decades, critics have sought alternatives to phrases like `metaphysical
poetry', and the formulations `seventeenth-century lyric' and `seven-
teenth-century religious poetry' have gained wide currency. Though
they avoid value-judgement, and the implication that certain mental
habits can be imputed with little variation to a heterogeneous group
of poets, they should, nevertheless, be treated with caution. South-
well was executed in the last decade of the sixteenth century, in 1595;
had he been thought to be an important poet, they would never have
been coined, and with the persistent use of these terms, he continues
to be written out of the canon. But Southwell is important on the
canonical level: for the quality of what he wrote, and even more for
his in¯uence on the poets immediately succeeding him.
The latter may not seem a particularly novel claim. Southwell's
signi┬®cance as a precursor of Herbert and other seventeenth-century
practitioners of the religious lyric is, after all, a commonplace, and
has inspired a number of critics to explore the relationship between
devotional poetry and Ignatian meditation. This is a debate that has
taken its post-war bearings from Louis Martz's The Poetry of Medita-
tion, which argued that English poetry was greatly in¯uenced by
Ignatian imaginative habits. Martz's book contains a prolonged
Catholic poetics and the Protestant canon 59
discussion of Southwell himself, a lead which has been followed up
by few of his successors;9 it is as if Southwell's importance ends with
his being a harbinger, and the tendency is towards impatience until
critics reach the home-territory of Herbert and Donne. Though this
study does not aim to cover meditative verse in general, the following
chapter makes a claim supplementary to Martz's: that the publi-
cation and immediate, sustained popular success of Saint Peters
Complaint after Southwell's martyrdom in February 1595 prompted a
sudden large-scale reaction from both elite and non-elite poets,
partly imitative and partly agonistic.
Martz's study was important because it helped to establish the
scale of Southwell's in¯uence, an in¯uence which is much more
discernible from internal than external evidence. Simply from
reading what Elizabethan poets have to say about their mentors,
one would assume that the turn towards religious poetry at this date
was spearheaded almost entirely by Edmund Spenser, Guillaume
Salluste du Bartas and the spirit of Sir Philip Sidney. 10 It is not that
Southwell is never mentioned at all, since a number of contempo-
raries praise his style; and much of this chapter is dedicated to
proving how widely he was read. But it is as if a martyred Catholic
could not escape an ideological miasma of a kind which did not
prevent his being read or imitated by non-Catholics, but which may
well have impeded their overt acknowledgement of him as an
exemplar.
Two examples may serve. Book iii of Giles Fletcher's long poem
Christs Victorie (1610) is strongly in¯uenced by Saint Peters Complaint,
and the book's preface, while owing something both to Southwell
and du Bartas in its discussion of the relationship of poetry to
religion, echoes the Englishman's conclusions more than the French-
man's; yet neither Southwell nor his works appear in Fletcher's
impeccably Protestant list of mentors, including Spenser, du Bartas
and James I.11 Forty-┬®ve years later, Henry Vaughan's preface to the
1655 edition of Silex Scintillans spoke of the long-continued war in
England between religious and secular poetry, and of George
Herbert as `the ┬®rst, that with any effectual success attempted a
diversion of this foul and over¯owing stream'.12 Southwell, of
course, is not the only poet which this judgement ignores; but the
poetic theories of Southwell, Herbert and the later Vaughan share a
distinctive intolerance of secular verse, which Vaughan's mentor
Herbert largely derived from Southwell.13 Vaughan's judgement
60 Catholics and the canon
may reveal an ignorance of Southwell's part in this, or a view that
Herbert's was by far the more important articulation of the idea; but
the wording of the preface is precise, and seems designed to imply
that for poetry to be truly effective, religious fervour needed to
accompany right belief. Southwell could be conceded a certain
measure of success; but for effectual success, it may have been
important to be a member of the Church of England.
Given suppressions like this, it is hardly surprising that Southwell
has been largely invisible to literary critics looking for a great
acknowledged tradition; yet even plaudits on Southwell can show
why his in¯uence is still underestimated. In Hypercritica, Edmund
Bolton demonstrates how a dissident's anonymity could lead to
uncertainty in attribution ┬± strikingly, since Bolton was a Catholic
himself. `Never must be forgotten St Peters Complaint, and those other
serious Poems said to be father Southwell's; the English whereof, as
it is most proper, so the sharpness and Light of Wit is very rare in
them.'14 More commonly, Southwell's poems are de┬®nitely identi┬®ed
as his. Ben Jonson's tribute is well-known: `That Southwell was
hanged; yet so he had written that piece of his ``The burning babe'',
he would have been content to destroy many of his.' 15 But the
judgement seems framed to display Jonson's own discernment as
much as to praise Southwell; it implies that less perceptive critics
might not see that a Catholic traitor could write well. Conversely, it
was sometimes admitted that an author could write well, even
though he was a Catholic traitor: Francis Bacon commented of
Southwell's A Humble Supplication to Her Majesty that `it is curiously
written, and worth the writing out for the art; though the argument
be bad'.16
Marginalisation began in Southwell's lifetime, since the very
factors which inspired his poetic theory, his Catholicism and his
missionary endeavour, set him at odds with the literary fashions
which prevailed in England during the period of his ministry.
Counter-Reformation Catholicism, as well as encouraging the use of
the imagination by dint of meditative techniques, favoured a wide
range of religious poetry; and Southwell's importation of continental
trends, discussed below, is marked by an untroubled use of verse for
devotional ends which, at this date, is more characteristically
Catholic than Protestant. As another English Catholic poet, F.W.,
put it eloquently some decades later in the preface to his manuscript
sonnet-sequence on the joys of heaven,
Catholic poetics and the Protestant canon 61
It seemethe verie conforme, to reason, that poetrie and divinitie shouldbe
matched together, as soule and bodie, bodie and garment, substance
enwrapped withe hir accidents . . . for if poetrie be an arte apte to depainte
most livelilie, the conceite of o[ur] mind . . . who then will not judge poetrie
best applied to the misteries of o[ur] faithe: the whiche for theire
p[ro]fundnes deterr most men from understandinge them: yet all are
bound to know them, and withe most pure and sincere affection accept and
imbrace them.17

It is here that clues may be found to Southwell's popularity in print.
Scholarship has tended to concentrate on the in¯uence of South-
well's short poems upon the religious lyricists of the next generation:
naturally enough, given how ┬®rmly literary studies are still tied to
anthological familiarity. But a wider view of Southwell's in┬»uence ┬±
on the longer religious poem, and on private meditations ┬± indicates
how he met a common devotional need which, in Protestant circles,
was only just beginning to be acknowledged again. His sententious
verse would have looked very dated towards the end of his life,
which must have lessened still further the willingness of elite poets to
acknowledge him as a forbear; but it was exactly the kind of moral
verse which was popular with non-elite audiences. Though South-
well only circulated his poems in manuscript during his lifetime, they
became ┬± with some deletions to suit a Protestant audience ┬± a very
popular and valuable commodity to the London book trade after his
death.
They were published soon after his execution in 1595; and while
their popularity must initially have owed much to topical interest,
they continued to sell well up to the Civil Wars.18 They inspired
imitations and appealed to a wide readership, socially and religiously
heterogeneous; and with a publishing record that rivals many
popular prose works of religious devotion, they succeeded in
pleasing both Catholics and Protestants for just under half a century.
Saint Peters Complaint ran through thirteen mainstream editions
between 1595 and 1640, and two printed by clandestine Catholic
presses ┬± given how often Southwell is merely considered a recusant
poet, the imbalance is worth noting. Its supplement M├║oni├± ran
through three mainstream editions, all dated 1595, before being
appended to Saint Peters Complaint in 1620.19 The economics of
publishing make it clear that the promulgators of Southwell in the
mainstream of the London book trade, and Southwell's later
imitators within that mainstream, were mainly catering for the non-
62 Catholics and the canon
elite reader. This is a group best de┬®nable by a negative: those who
were able to read, to pay for books and to utilise printed sources for
their religious devotions, but who, for whatever reason, did not have
access to the systems of scribal publication prevailing in court,
university and aristocratic circles. For such readers, a book's didactic
usefulness would often have dictated whether they could justify
buying it; and the longer poem might have been attractive for its
greater expository possibilities.
But, this consideration apart, the editors' choice of title-poem was
apt. Though Southwell is now thought of principally as a lyric poet,
it was his long lachrymal elegy that had the greatest effect upon
contemporary writers. Strongly in¯uenced by Luigi Tansillo's Le
Lagrime di San Pietro (1st edn. 1560), it comments on the Passion by
means of the dramatic contrition of the narrator, St Peter.20 As with
Tansillo, the rhetorical drama of Saint Peters Complaint makes constant
participatory demands on an audience. Joan Grundy has said that
tears-poetry pushed to the limit the tendency towards apostrophe,
exclamation and other rhetorical incarnations of excitement which
the Passion had always inspired in devotional writers, `by making the
rhetoric predominate and by dissolving narrative, very largely, into
declamation'.21 The emphasis on dissolution is one that will recur.
Saint Peters Complaint was issued shortly after Southwell's execution,
and was designed to capitalise upon it. Three editions appeared in
the ┬®rst year, two published by John Wolfe and one by Gabriel
Cawood, with the ┬®rst to appear being issued by Wolfe.22 Southwell's
bibliographers agree that there was a race to get the book out.23
Unusually for English mainstream publications of a Catholic text,
both men eschew the various strategies of maintaining ideological
distance from it: the condemnatory or regretful dedication or epistle,
or the systematic parody.24 Other than Southwell's own apologia for
religious poetry, the text is presented without apology or explana-
tion, and as far as internal evidence goes, there is nothing to suggest
that there might be a need for either. This is clearly not because the
publishers were unaware of the dangers; despite the possibility of
their being in manuscripts from which the printers were working,
Southwell's most obviously Catholic poems are not included.25 A
number on the Virgin Mary were issued later in M├║oni├±, a supple-
mentary volume to Saint Peters Complaint issued by John Busby, while
others had to wait until the nineteenth century to be printed.
The appropriate of┬®cial sanctions were obtained early on, when
Catholic poetics and the Protestant canon 63
Gabriel Cawood entered it in the Stationers' Register on 5 April
1595.26 Previously to that, either he or Wolfe had secured an
ecclesiastical licence,27 notwithstanding the fact that in the previous
year, 1594, a manuscript copy of Saint Peters Complaint was presented
as evidence of recusancy in the examination of John Bolt.28 The
of┬®cial attitude is certainly a little inconsistent: perhaps this is
evidence of inef┬®ciency, but more likely it re┬»ects an acknowledge-
ment that there was nothing in the poems as printed that a
Protestant could not read with pro┬®t. Censorship is not just a matter
of text, and the disciplining of Bolt penalised not merely a poem, but
that poem's connection to a suspected individual and the clandestine
manner of its distribution.
Southwell is no exception to the rule described in the intro-
duction, that most religious poems written by Catholics could have
been read ┬± though often differently interpreted ┬± by Protestant and
Catholic alike. With Southwell, the real question is different: given
the notoriety of their author, how could Protestants buy and read
him? Many of the ┬®rst purchasers must have been curious or
voyeuristic, and conversely, ignorance of the author's identity must
also have played a part.29 Catholics, too, would not have con┬®ned
their purchasing to editions of Southwell produced by clandestine
presses. But the majority of Southwell's large audience, certainly at
the beginning, must have been Protestants aware of Southwell's
religious persuasions and Southwell's fate; and the poems' instant
and continued popularity argues that a large section of the reading
public was prepared to buy, and to go on buying, the works of a
papist who had died a traitor's death. The book's popularity with the
public may be evidence of sympathy for Southwell in particular,
even if not for Catholics in general; but the publishers' style of
presentation must have made it easier to justify buying the book. It
may be possible to see the semi-anonymity and continued popularity
of Southwell's poems as a collusion between of┬®cialdom, publisher
and public.

southwell as poetic theorist
It was a collusion worthwhile because Southwell's poems met a need
for imaginatively engaging religious verse, different from mainstream
English religious poetry of the 1590s. This was probably due, in large
part, to the inhibiting effects of Protestant nervousness; treatments of
64 Catholics and the canon
the New Testament, particularly the Gospels, were still a subject-
area where accusations of idolatry could be upheld.30 In relation to
drama, Murray Roston has postulated a `ladder of sanctity', whereby
the Reformation rendered ┬®rst the New Testament, then the Old
Testament and the Apocrypha, too sacred for imaginative treat-
ment.31 But nothing so schematic is necessary to imagine ways in
which Southwell's poems might have incurred disapproval. South-
well uses two New Testament characters as narrators, St Peter and
Mary Magdalen, and their long meditations could have been read as
illegitimate embroidery of the Gospel, supplanting God's Word by
the fruits of fallible human imagination; in fact, they could have
been read as popish. As various critics have noted, English Calvinist
piety did not tend to encourage passion narratives.32 But Southwell's
emphasis on repentance may have had the effect of claiming the
moral high ground and disarming Protestant criticism.
Though striking, the novelty of Southwell's product on a public
level should not be over-emphasised; it came into a market prepared
to welcome something new in a recognised ┬®eld, rather than one
where there was a complete lack of divine verse. Religious poetry in
certain genres was already part of the repertoire of the English
Reformation publisher. Polemical anti-Catholic verse was, of course,
ubiquitous; prayers were sometimes versi┬®ed; Biblical paraphrases
were not uncommon;33 metrical psalms had been advocated by the
reformers, welcomed by Catholics as well as by Protestants and
essayed by Philip Sidney and his sister; 34 and a few religious verses
had appeared in popular anthologies, notably by another Catholic,
Jasper Heywood, in The Paradise of Dainty Devices (1576┬±1606).35
Robert Holland's Holie Historie of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christs
Nativitie, Life, Actes . . . Gathered into English Meeter, and Published to
Withdraw Vaine Wits from all Unsaverie and Wicked Rimes and Fables
(1594) was written expressly to be sung to psalm-tunes.36 At the
cheap end of the print-market, penny godlies and godly broadside
ballads were a large part of the stock-in-trade of the ballad
salesman.37 The distinction between religious and merely moral is
not always easy to draw, and this alone suggests that one should not
underestimate the amount of versi┬®ed spiritual nourishment in
circulation in the late sixteenth century. As previously observed,

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