Prayer and Performance in Early Modern English Literature: Gesture, Word and Devotion

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This book brings together a collection of essays that examine prayer as performance in late sixteenth and seventeenth-century England and its wider European context. The essays are selected to range across a variety of social milieux, practices and controversies in order to understand the importance of performative gesture and word to the act of prayer and the beliefs that defined it. How did the words and gestures of prayer serve as a means for creating, recognising and shaping religious identity? How were prayer and the controversies that surrounded it reflected in literature and drama? How did the performance of prayer reflect shifts in social perspectives and customs? These questions are addressed in two ways, first by discussing prayer as a social act and second by exploring the representation of prayer on stage and in literature. Organised in this way, the book makes an explicit assertion that these two modes of performed prayer, the social act and its literary/dramatic representation, are intrinsically linked, the latter providing imaginative space to explore the former's sincere expressions of belief as well as its contradictions and arbitrary delineations. As a social act, performance means the words and gestures that were recognised as prayer at a time when debate about the proper way to pray was especially intense. Equally important is the performance that might have been construed as non-prayer or prayers that were seen as in some way invalid. We quickly focus, therefore, on the boundaries and definitions of prayer and the ways in which these distinctions are made.

Chapter Summary:

Joseph Sterrett, ‘Conforming and Non-conforming Performances: An Introduction’

Part One: Prayer as Social Act

Chapter 1:Brian Cummings, ‘Prayer, Bodily Ritual and Performative Utterance: Bucer, Calvin, and the Book of Common Prayer’
Chapter 2: Martin Wangsgaard Jürgensen, ‘Motion as Medium: The Role of Bodily Actions in Early Modern Praying’

Chapter 3: Graham Parry, ‘The Tradition of High Church Prayer in the 17th Century’

Chapter 4: Efrosini Botonaki, ‘The Protestant Diary and the Act of Prayer’

Chapter 5:Robert Wilcher, ‘Charles I and the Royal Performance of Prayer’

Chapter 6: Donald Dickson, ‘Vaughan’s Prose as Social Act and Prayer’

Chapter 7:Katrin Ettenhuber, ‘Prayer in Context: The Dynamics of Worship in Donne’

Chapter 8: Judi Loach, ‘Civic Performances as Communal Prayer’

Part Two: Prayer in Drama and Literature

Chapter 9:Joseph Sterrett, ‘Rereading Prayer as Social Act: Examples from Shakespeare’

Chapter 10:Christopher Hodgkins, ‘Playing at Prayer: The Spiritual Failure of Performance in Hamlet’

Chapter 11:Alison Findlay, ‘Prayer, Performance and Community in Early Modern Drama’

Chapter 12:Chloe Preedy, ‘Grounded Messengers: Delivering Prayers in Early Modern Drama’

Chapter 13:Roy Eriksen, ‘Marlowe and Prayer: The Mighty Line and Its Forgotten Sources’

Chapter 14:Gilles Sampras, ‘“A fair show of flesh”: Reconsidering Milton’s Rejection of Set Forms”

Chapter 15:Noam Reisner, ‘“The spirit of prayer inspired”: invocation as prayer in Milton’s Poetic Imagination’

Chapter 16:Helen Wilcox, ‘ ‘Your suit is granted”: Performing Prayer in Early Modern English Poetry’
Original languageEnglish
Place of publicationUK
PublisherCambridge University Press
ISBN (Print) 9781108429726
ISBN (Electronic)9781108555135
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2018


  • Prayer
  • Performance
  • Lancelot Andrewes
  • Martin Bucer
  • Shakespeare
  • Henry Vaughan
  • 16th Century
  • 17th Century
  • early modern drama


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