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Betwixt Jest and Earnest

Betwixt Jest and Earnest: Marprelate, Milton, Marvell, Swift & the Decorum of Religious Ridicule

Series: Heritage
Copyright Date: 1979
Pages: 203
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  • Book Info
    Betwixt Jest and Earnest
    Book Description:

    Marprelate, Milton, Marvell, and Swift are among the best prose satirists in a remarkably rich literary era. Focusing on these key figures, 'Betwixt Jest and Earnest' examines the theory and practice of religious prose in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-5632-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Religion, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 3-7)

    In an eighteenth-century essay concerned with the post-Shaftesburian question of laughter as the test of truth Anthony Collins contends: ‘Let any Man read the Writings of our most eminent Divines against thePapists, Puritans, Dissenters, andHereticks, and against one another,… and he will find them to abound withBanter, Ridicule, andIrony.’¹ To prove his assertion, and thereby refute a specific argument proscribing laughter in serious issues, Collins cites numerous clergymen both for and against the established church who countenance and even employ various forms of ridicule. Although the writers and the works cited in Collins’s extensive survey of...

  5. 2 ‘Nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient’
    (pp. 8-32)

    Throughout the period bounded by Mar prelate and Swift writers schooled in rhetoric, who were acquainted with patristic authors and sensitive to the Bible, return continually to the same sources to form or to justify their own attitudes towards religious ridicule. With characteristic eclecticism and with considerable repetition they cite familiar passages from Horace, Chrysostom, and Genesis to form at least in theory a decorum of laughter.¹ Among these many discussions Isaac Barrow’s sermon on Ephesians 5:4 is particularly important. His elucidation of a biblical passage in which, as Richard Greenham had earlier observed, ‘The true rule of mirth is...

  6. 3 The Marprelate Tracts
    (pp. 33-60)

    In the fourth of the seven tracts issued secretly from the Marprelate press between October 1588 and September 1589 the anonymous author admits that his natural inclination is not ‘to jest in this serious matter.’ Only the obligation to expose the errors in the polity of the established church and to promote true Christian government prompted his expedient course. Most people, the apology explains, had little immediate interest in the need for reform and would not ordinarily become engaged in the disputed issues. ‘Perceiving the humours of men in these times (especially of those that are in any place) to...

  7. 4 John Milton contra Hall
    (pp. 61-93)

    Reviewing the causes that prevented the establishment of true Christian discipline in Elizabeth’s reign, John Milton notes inOf Reformationthe ‘greennesse of the Times.’ Cautious counsellors and moderate prelates, he contends, were unprepared or unable to extirpate completely the popish errors reintroduced by Mary. Worldly clergy eager to thrive in privileged positions promoted the fear that attacks upon their prelacy would infringe upon the royal prerogative, and repression in the name of order frustrated religious reform. ‘From that time follow’d nothing but Imprisonments, troubles, disgraces on all those that found fault with theDecreesof the Convocation, and strait...

  8. 5 The Rehearsal Transpros’d
    (pp. 94-125)

    Reflecting on the turbulent era that failed to fulfil the promise envisioned in Milton’s tracts, Andrew Marvell observes: ‘I think the Cause was too good to have been fought for. Men ought to have trusted God; they ought and might have trusted the King with that whole matter.’¹ This famous and perplexing opinion carries the assurance of time. ‘Even as his present Majesties happy Restauration did it self,’ Marvell retrospectively views the course of history, ‘so all things else happen in their best and proper time, without any need of our officiousness’ (p 135). But when the design of providence...

  9. 6 A Tale of a Tub
    (pp. 126-162)

    A Tale of a Tubcontinues the attack against abuses traditional in late sixteenth- and seventeenth-century polemic. Religious corruptions ridiculed in the satire are, as the author insists in his Apology, ‘such as have been perpetually controverted since the Reformation’;¹ and its digressive concern with errors in learning touches equally long-standing considerations. Despite a design which separates into sections a dual emphasis on ‘the numerous and gross Corruptions in Religion and Learning,’ Jonathan Swift’s first significant prose satire unifies issues of polity and knowledge central to the controversy that earlier involved Marprelate, Milton, and Marvell. While the determination of a...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 163-194)
  11. Index
    (pp. 195-204)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 205-205)