This post in our After Iconophobia Online Symposium comes from Jan Tasker, an AHRC M3C-funded PhD student based at the University of Birmingham’s Shakespeare Institute. Jan is working with Martin Wiggins and Jonathan Willis on representations of the supernatural in early modern English drama. Here she reflects upon the changing ways in which God was represented on the Elizabethan stage.
In 1606 the Parliament of King James I of England passed an act banning players from ‘jestingly or prophanely […] speak[ing] or [using] the holy Name of God or of Christ Jesus or of the Holy Ghoste or of the Trinity’, or risk a £10 fine. Following the Reformation God was not to be taken lightly, and such usage was considered blasphemous or, potentially, idolatrous. However as Patrick Collinson noted in his seminal lecture ‘From Iconoclasm to Iconophobia’ God had apparently left the English stage more than twenty years earlier – or had he?
My current research explores how dramatists across a variety of genres continued actively to explore the theological issues concerning supernatural beings, including God, during the period 1533 – 1642. In this early stage I have been identifying dramatic works that contain explicit supernatural elements of a potentially religious nature. This blog will share these early findings in respect of the disappearance, or otherwise, of the Christian God. The data discussed comes from an electronic trawl of Dr Martin Wiggins’ work for his ongoing British Drama: A Catalogue, including all known dramatic works (not just plays) written in the period 1533 – 1642.