AbstractsLanguage, Literature & Linguistics

From tendency to feature: The development of anti-Catholicism in early modern English drama

by Carolina Bauer

Institution: Philipps-Universität Marburg
Year: 2015
Posted: 02/05/2017
Record ID: 2132964
Full text PDF: 10.17192/z2016.0069;


“Intolerance of Catholics and Catholicism is one of the best-known features of seventeenth-century England” , but at the same time it is also “in some ways […] one of the least explored. In particular, little is known of the essential feature of this intolerance – the nature, extent and causes of the Protestant fear of Catholics.” It was this quote which struck me the most while I was conducting research for my thesis. Robin Clifton made this statement in his study on “The popular fear of Catholics during the English Revolution” in the early 70’s and addressed a well-known phenomenon of early modern studies. We all know about the religious and political struggles of the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras. We know about the event which initiated the whole English Reformation, that is the divorce of Henry VIII from Catherine of Aragon and his second marriage to Anne Boleyn. And we know that “a vocabulary of anti-Catholicism or anti-Popery was developed and deployed for a wide variety of national and international circumstances” , but the reason why this, in essence, marital issue launched the prosecution of hundreds of English Catholics and converted a Catholic nation into a Protestant nation with fierce anti-Catholic sentiments has remained an under-investigated and intriguing phenomenon. The aim of my thesis was to find a satisfying answer to these questions. The basis for this answer consists of political and historical facts, legal texts and a selection of dramatic texts of the early modern period. I chose dramatic texts for the simple reason that theatre was the only open medium and form of entertainment which was accessible for all social classes. Moreover, going to the theatre did not “demand literacy in an age when most of the population was illiterate” , and when books were reserved for the literate few, that is to say that even the uneducated ‘groundlings’ – as they were called – formed a welcome part of the audience. By choosing such a broad spectrum I hoped to have built an ideal foundation of historical and literary inquiry, which would offer sufficient information and leave as little questions as possible. The structure of my thesis therefore aims at providing all necessary facts and information at first and in a second step bringing all the information down to a common denominator and find an – in this case – philosophical explanation. Therefore, the first part of my thesis offers a broad and extensive overview of the historical background of the early modern period by bringing together “a number of religiously coded events” like the excommunication of Elizabeth I, the execution of Mary Stuart, the victory over the Spanish Armada and the Gunpowder Plot. These events are put into context with the governmental measurements – in… Advisors/Committee Members: Fielitz, Sonja (advisor).