The Passion of Christ in Seventeenth-Century Religious Poetry: Crashaw, Donne, Herbert, Lanyer.
Abstract: Abstract The Passion of Christ in Seventeenth-Century Religious
Poetry: Crashaw, Donne, Herbert, Lanyer I have considered it, and find There is no dealing
with thy mighty passion. George Herbert, "The Reprisal" (1-2) . The Passion of Christ
explores how early modern poetry engages with the challenges of representing Christ's
sacrifice. As Debora Shuger observes in The Renaissance Bib... read morele, Passion narratives "seemed
to draw into themselves a wildly problematic and complex range of cultural issues. They are
haunted by questions of selfhood, violence, gender, and history and provide the symbolic
forms for such speculations" (8). As much as the works "draw" the issues "into themselves,"
however, they also reflect and respond to them. Post-Reformation English poets write within
a religious climate of disruption, since the foundational tenets of the Protestant
Reformation—the authority of written vernacular Scripture and the trust in faith and grace
in effecting salvation—conflict with the Catholic belief in works and ritual practices.
Through rhetorical readings of works by representative poets, I analyze how Passion poetry
serves as a site of expressive negotiation for poets who seek to establish their
complicated religious identities. Not surprisingly, representations of the Passion generate
meanings as contradictory as the event itself: failure implies success, interpretation
replaces Word, and imitation becomes creation. In my first chapter, I argue for a
reevaluation of Richard Crashaw's Passion poems as exercises in didacticism: as deliberate,
self-conscious, instructive expressions of Christ's narrative, rather than as effusive,
uncontained outpourings of Catholic extravagance. Responding to recent critical efforts to
situate Crashaw's works within a masculine mode, I see his affective engagement as drawing
instead from female medieval mystical devotion. My second chapter on John Donne (a convert
in the opposite direction) considers the project of poetic self-fashioning in the context
of changing speakers and a shifting self. Holding steady the event of the Passion
underscores the uneasy, uneven relationship of Donne's speakers to this scene and
highlights their dramatizations of identity formation. The third chapter on George Herbert
more closely probes the practical and psychological problems of imitative expression: as
language necessarily fails to articulate this inexpressible sacrifice, and as he struggles
to reconcile language and art with purity of expression. I propose that Herbert develops an
interactive version of imitatio Christi to expand the Reformed value of inwardness.
Although critics focus on the social implications of Aemilia Lanyer's text, in the final
chapter, I consider her work to be fundamentally religious. By reimagining the Passion
narrative as a site of exclusively female compassion and strength, Lanyer insists upon
women's obligation to interpret their religious history, validate their present, and shape
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Tufts University, 2015.
Submitted to the Dept. of English.
Advisor: Judith Haber.
Committee: Judith Haber, Kevin Dunn, John Fyler, and Achsah Guibbory.
Keywords: English literature, Religion, and Religious history.read less