Exorcism and Its Texts

Exorcism and Its Texts: Subjectivity in Early Modern Literature of England and Spain

Hilaire Kallendorf
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 408
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/9781442674721
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Exorcism and Its Texts
    Book Description:

    Exorcism and demonic possession appear as recurrent motifs in early modern Spanish and English literatures. InExorcism and Its Texts, Hilaire Kallendorf demonstrates how this 'infection' was represented in some thirty works of literature by fifteen different authors, ranging from canonical classics like Shakespeare, Cervantes, Ben Jonson, and Lope de Vega, to obscure works by anonymous writers.

    From comic and tragic drama to picaresque narrative and eight other genres, possession worked as a paradigm through which authors could convey extraordinary experience, including not only demonic possession but also madness or even murder. The devil was thought to be able to enter the bodily organs and infect memory, imagination, and reason. Some came to believe that possession was tied to enthusiasm, poetic frenzy, prophecy, and genius. Authors often drew upon sensational details of actual exorcisms. In some cases, such as in Shakespeare, curing the body (and the body politic) meant affirming cultural authority; in others, as with Zamora, it clearly meant subverting it. Drawing on the disciplines of literary theory and history,Exorcism and its Textsis the first comprehensive study of this compelling topic.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7472-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Prologue – A Force Within: The Importance of Demonic Possession for Early Modern Studies
    (pp. xiii-xx)

    Why should demonic possession matter to all students and scholars of the early modern period? One answer – and, I believe, the most important one – is that potential possession by a demon both threatened and enhanced the integrated notion of selfhood which scholars from Jacob Burckhardt to Stephen Greenblatt have pointed to as a hallmark of the Renaissance.¹ This early modern attention to the self and the individual identity has been contrasted broadly with the medieval insistence on anonymity: the emphasis in medieval manuscripts copied by anonymous scribes was on what was being said, not on who was saying...

  5. A Paradigm of Theologemes for Literary Exorcism
    (pp. xxi-2)
  6. Introduction: The Morphology of Exorcism, or a Grammar of Possession in Spanish and English Literature, 1550–1700
    (pp. 3-16)

    Exorcism and demonic possession appear as recurrent motifs in early modern Spanish and English literature. This fact is not surprising, given the dramatic appeal of sensational details of actual exorcism cases. These exorcisms were conducted by both orthodox authority figures and illegitimate charlatans upon both suffering demoniacs and cynical masters of illusion. Unfortunately, the claims of postmodern scholars such as some so-called New Historicists that early modern thinkers could not ever have believed in the literal possibility of demonic possession have prevented readers from appreciating the power of many exorcism scenes in early modern literature. It is important not to...

  7. Chapter One Demoniacs in the Drama: Theatricalities of Comic Possession and the Exorcism of the Body Politic
    (pp. 17-66)

    I begin my study of exorcism in literature with a chapter on comic drama, where – I will argue – the greatest emphasis falls on the theologeme of exorcism as a synecdoche for curing the body politic. Just as early modern people could feel threatened by demons, so by extension entire societies could feel threatened by epidemics of demonic possession. Just as exorcism was a way of restoring the equilibrium of the internally coherent self in the private sphere, so in the public sphere exorcism on the stage could function as a therapeutic restoration of the spiritual equilibrium of an...

  8. Chapter Two Possessed Pícaros and Satanic Satire
    (pp. 67-96)

    The experience of demonic possession, real or feigned, seen as a source of knowledge – that is the common denominator for the works to be discussed in this chapter. This chapter emphasizes a more positive side of demonic possession, its desirability as a state in which access to knowledge can be gained. This knowledge may be the ‘school of hard knocks’ sort of common sense of thepícaro, or the enticing glimmer of dark, evil knowledge gleaned through the satirical descent into hell. Either way, this new and fascinating knowledge is a potential enhancement to the early modern self– a...

  9. Chapter Three Romance, the Interlude, and Hagiographical Drama: The Humanization of Possession and Exorcism
    (pp. 97-125)

    The genres of romance and the dramatic interlude contain many of the same theologemes as the genres of comic drama or even the picaresque, with one major difference: they place special emphasis on the theologeme of the lovers’ ruse. The genres of romance and the dramatic interlude appeal to ‘romantics’ both in the sense that they attract the erotic, desiring early modern self and in the more fundamental sense that they attract optimists who ‘just want everything to work out right in the end.’ Romance is traditionally the genre which involves wish fulfilment or even escapism, the genre for those...

  10. Chapter Four Tragedy As the Absence or Failure of Exorcism
    (pp. 126-156)

    When it appears in tragedy, exorcism fails. Often, however, it is omitted altogether. The presence of demonic possession in tragedy without the concomitant presence of exorcism leaves a yawning void, the dismal abyss which is a perennial feature of the tragic landscape. InKing Lear, the exorcism ritual does appear, but it fails within the text as an effective redemptive process for the early modern self. It does not fail, however, as a metatheatrical metaphor of catharsis. InA Yorkshire Tragedy, there is a sort of exorcism, but it also fails as a conductor of the self to ultimate redemption....

  11. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  12. Chapter Five Self-Exorcism and the Rise of the Novel
    (pp. 157-183)

    The novel is the genre which has been most associated with the rise of the autonomous early modern self.¹ In the novel, the early modern self awakens and fully takes on a life of its own, divorced from the hand of its creator. In the novel, the early modern self fashions all the means to reach its own ends. In the novel, the early modern self exorcizes its own demons.

    This genre is unique in its treatment of literary exorcism because it sees several theologemes converge to form one. The exorcist is the same figure as the demoniac; in other...

  13. Conclusion: Liturgy in Literature, or Early Modern Literary Theory and the Christian Legitimate Marvellous
    (pp. 184-199)

    Scholars from Burckhardt to the Marxists, cultural materialists, and New Historicists have wanted to remove God from the early modem period. Jacob Burckhardt described what occurred in the Renaissance as

    the dissolution of the most essential dogmas of Christianity. The notion of sin and salvation must have almost entirely evaporated. We must not be misled by the effects of the great preachers of repentance or by the epidemic revivals... The passive and contemplative form of Christianity, with its constant reference to a higher world beyond the grave, could no longer control these men.¹

    Burckhardt, a friend and intellectual kindred spirit...

  14. Epilogue: Problematizing the Category of ‘Demonic Possession’
    (pp. 200-206)

    Early modern selves being penetrated by demons: this has been the theme of our study of exorcism in literature. This literature depicts many different figurations of the early modern self: there were kings and saints, but alsopícarosand murderers. Demonic possession is a great leveller because all of these figures can suffer this affliction. In fact, in light of recent challenges to the premise that runs from Burckhardt to Greenblatt of the nascent unitary self in the early modern period,¹ this field of demonic possession may be one of the only areas left where it is still possible to...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 207-264)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 265-306)
  17. Index
    (pp. 307-327)