Conferences

“Jack Juggler, Shakespeare, and the Lost Bodies of Eucharistic Comedy”

Shakespeare Association of America
Washington DC
April 18–20, 2019

This essay situates the academic comedy Jack Juggler (ascribed to Nicholas Udall, c. 1547-1553) within a nuanced conversation on the eucharist and its embodied implications that extends from Edwardian England to Shakespeare’s stage. As an artifact of pre-Shakespearean comedy, Jack Juggler illustrates how a relatively unknown play, performed by student-actors, participated in the most controversial theological debate of the era and anticipated, if not influenced, the representation of bodies in Shakespeare’s comedies. Jack Juggler, a comedic critique of the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, depicts the embodied consequences of the Mass from the perspective of a Protestant polemicist. Jenkin Careaway, the character who bears the brunt of transubstantiation’s supposed trickery, experiences this “juggling” as a loss of his own body, wherein he comes to mistrust the sensory experience of his body and effectively “loses” his “name, body, shape, legs, and all.” This experience of bodily disorientation reflects Protestant discourse on transubstantiation, a doctrine that (according to Reformers) constituted a radical reconceptualizing of the body and its epistemological borders. The Comedy of Errors and Twelfth Night, while not overt participants in this religious polemic, share Jack Juggler’s strains of embodied veracity, loss, and limitation in ways that gesture to the larger religious landscape. While drawing a definitive line of influence between Jack Juggler and Shakespeare may not be possible, this essay considers the religious, and even eucharistic, light that might be shed on Shakespeare’s comedies when seen as dramatic inheritors of Jack Juggler’s eucharistic bodies.


“Getting Rid of the Body: The Eucharist and Bodily Erasure in Catholic Allegory”

Symposium of Medieval and Renaissance Studies
St. Louis MO
June 18­­–20, 2018


“When Paradise Gets Political: Teaching Milton’s Satan Through the Reformation”

Sixteenth Century Society and Conference
Milwaukee WI
October 26–29, 2017

Like any epic, Paradise Lost can be overwhelming for students apprehensive toward its language and skeptical of its relevance. Teachers, likewise, confront the magnitude of this text as they consider how best to illustrate the intersecting (and at times contradictory) layers of Milton’s political, theological, gendered, and religious commitments. Focusing on the intersection of religion and politics, this paper offers a pedagogical strategy that empowers students to read intertextually and recognize the political force behind what may seem like a predominantly religious text. Rather than situating Paradise Lost exclusively in the context of the English Civil War, I argue that taking students further back in history, to the Reformation of the sixteenth century, not only historicizes the text’s religious rhetoric but also illuminates its political ramifications. By reading selections by William Tyndale, Thomas Muntzer, and Theodore Beza, students see the Reformation as a politically charged movement characterized by radical views ranging from regicide to pacifism. With this discourse as their framework for reading Paradise Lost, students quickly identify the politico-theological debates mediating the characterization of Satan. As rebel forces against a sovereign king, Satan and his minions weigh competing arguments as they consider submission versus resistance, a debate that echoes that of Reformers a century earlier. Teaching this Reformation history readily illuminates the political undertones of Satan’s rhetoric in Paradise Lost. Rather than trying to convince students that Milton’s epic is indeed political, we can help them discover this on their own as they read the epic in light of the politicized theology of the Reformation. This paper will offer a pedagogical defense for this approach, provide textual examples for students to compare/contrast, and propose teaching strategies for how to “politicize” Milton’s epic through the Reformation.


“A Parody of Reformation: Anthony Copley and the Language of Catholic Reform”

Renaissance Society of America
Chicago, IL
March 30–April 1, 2017

Anthony Copley’s A Fig for Fortune (1596), a parody of The Faerie Queene, illustrates the powers and pitfalls of re-forming the Catholic Church by un-forming the militant, political, and masculinized language of Protestant allegory. While Copley privileges a comparatively passive form of interior devotion, his vision of counterreformation is complicated by the fact that he circumscribes it with The Faerie Queene, a text whose defining features include chivalric performance, active displays of virtue, and the preservation of a political kingdom. By casting his critique in the form of parody, Copley ridicules—but necessarily echoes—the constraints of Protestant reform and Spenserian epic. Attending to the contradictions of this under-studied allegory, I argue that A Fig for Fortune re-inscribes the very language and values Copley encourages his Catholic countrymen to resist. This paper illuminates the complex (and not always successful) negotiations of language and genre that define religious reform.


“Shakespeare, Calvin, and the Limits of Reading”
Conference on Christianity and Literature
Riverside, CA
May 13–14, 2016

While critics often read Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost as satirizing religious scholasticism, courtly love, and Petrarchan poetry, the play no less critiques a culture of reading. When Navarre’s courtiers choose romance over ascetic scholarship, they are not abandoning the religious or the scholarly, as most critics argue. Rather, they trade one form of reading for another, as female bodies become “the books, the arts, the academes” of their devotion, the texts through which they hope to attain truth and enlightenment. As readable texts that promise forbidden knowledge, books and bodies share the same characteristics, require the same interventions, and lead to similar ends. I argue that Love’s Labour’s Lost defines reading as a potential act of border-transgression. Rather than proclaiming light and truth, reading may just as easily lead to ignorance and deferral. While such ideas may suggest disillusioned skepticism toward reading, early modern theologians similarly identify the epistemological limits—even dangers—of certain forms of reading. John Calvin, whose work arguably influenced Love’s Labour’s Lost, assigns mystery to reading and invites caution when approaching texts, like the Bible, that readers are prone to misread and misinterpret. I juxtapose Shakespeare and Calvin to suggest that the limits they assign to reading reflect both literary and theological motivations.


“A ‘charming allegorical utterance’: The Protestant Eucharist and the Question of Allegory”
Sixteenth Century Society and Conference
Vancouver, British Columbia
October 22–25, 2015

As represented across a wide range of interdisciplinary scholarship, sixteenth-century Protestants like Luther and Tyndale are often associated with literalism, a hermeneutic method that seems to mistrust figuration of all kinds and instead privileges the clarity and simplicity of the literal sense. But if this rendering of Protestantism is accurate, how then do we account for the centrality of allegory in the Eucharist discourse that spans the spectrum of Reformed belief and practice? In their arguments against the Catholic Mass, Protestants consistently use the term “allegory” to describe the signification embodied in the Eucharist, and they derive this theology from an allegorical interpretation of the Gospel texts. Ironically, even the Catholic Thomas More, who relishes allegorical reading, accuses Protestants of relying too heavily on allegory. While scholars like Brian Cummings have exposed the robust theory of allegory that characterizes Protestant interpretation, the Eucharist makes only the smallest of appearances in such studies, even though it was often the precipitator of these hermeneutic debates. I argue that allegory maintains a firm place within Protestant discourse and theology precisely because Reformers identified the Eucharist—the longest-standing and perhaps most divisive ritual of the church—as allegorical. In demonstrating that allegory is central to how Protestants articulate their theology of the Eucharist, I aim to reclaim space for allegory within Reformation discourse, to redraw the lines of literalism, and ultimately to link the shape and structure of a Protestant Eucharist to the proliferation of allegory in literary texts.


“John Donne’s Body and Eucharistic Allegory”
Domestic Devotions in the Early Modern World
Cambridge University, Cambridge, England
July 9–11, 2015

For John Donne, the lines between public ritual and private devotion blur in his Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions as he tries to make sense of a nearly fatal illness. In translating his bodily experience into a spiritual one, he turns to the theology of the Eucharist and compares his own body to the bread of the sacrament. In so doing, he effectively transforms his domesticated, sickly body into a site of devotion. In this paper, I argue that a Protestant theology of the Eucharist allows Donne to appropriate the ritual both in constructing his Devotions and in theorizing his body. He maps this public ritual onto a private space by conflating his bedridden body with the bread of the sacrament; but in then articulating this experience through a printed text, he resituates the newly domesticated ritual back into the space of a collective readership. With the Eucharist as his model for allegorical reading and interpretation, Donne renders his own body as an allegorical text, a body that points outside itself without losing its own reality as a substantial body. While scholarship by Gary Kuchar, Nancy Selleck, and Ramie Targoff goes a considerable distance in articulating Donne’s theory of embodiment, I argue that our understanding is incomplete without considering the Eucharist. Since bread and wine are, for Donne, textual signs that must be read allegorically, he likewise envisions his own material body as a text inscribed by God. For Donne, neither bread nor body should be mistaken as “casual, or without signification.” If real bread can signify the divine, then so also might other material substances, including Donne’s body. And as such, the sickbed of his home becomes a communion altar, the domestic the site of the sacred.


“Re-reading Literal Reading: Thomas More, the Eucharist, and Utopia
Symposium for Medieval and Renaissance Studies
St. Louis University, St. Louis, MO
June 15–17, 2015

Although scholars often pit Thomas More against the strict literalism of Protestants like Luther and Tyndale, the distinctions between them are, at times, quite blurry. In fact, in his Answer to a Poisoned Book, More’s articulation of a literalist hermeneutic sounds surprisingly reminiscent of Tyndale’s, therein inviting us to consider how such vehement opponents can articulate similar hermeneutic theories but still arrive at vastly different interpretive conclusions. To address this problem, I turn to More’s treatises on the Eucharist. At the site of the sacrament, interpretive lines are radically redrawn, as we find proponents of literalism articulating an anti-literalist position, and vice versa. Since More’s defense of the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation requires a literalist paradigm (“This is my body” is, for More, a literal statement), I argue that his Eucharistic theology in turn shapes, and is shaped by, the hermeneutic theory and practice he defends across his religious disputations. My paper begins with a synthesis of More’s Eucharistic theology and then demonstrates how this theology intersects his position on reading, his theory of literal-versus-allegorical interpretation, and his anxiety regarding the mass readership of the Bible; I then turn to Utopia where this theology comes to bear on More’s uncertainty about the signification of bodies and his attempt not just to limit but to altogether disallow potential misreading. In aligning More with a literalism that at first seems more characteristic of Protestant writers, I am nuancing, indeed challenging, assumptions regarding the strictness with which Protestants and Catholics employed distinct hermeneutic practices.


“The Georgic Environment and Fruitful Labor of George Herbert”
Sixteenth Century Society and Conference
New Orleans, LA
October 16–19, 2014

Despite the seeming pastoralism of his tone and imagery, George Herbert applies a strictly georgic lens to his representation of the environment, his subjectivity, and his theology. Rendered as a commodity in a web of economic production, nature becomes the model for Herbert’s sense of his own worth to England, the church, and even God. He structures his identity as both priest and poet according to the georgic emphasis on labor, production, and fruitfulness and seeks to justify his work according to its use-value, and maps these same values onto his theology by emphasizing God as laborer. Ironically, instead of nature shaping Herbert’s perspective of theology and Christian subjectivity, Herbert derives his understanding of nature from human culture, applying human terms and values to the natural world.