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1 Performing the Scriptures: Biblical Drama after the Reformation

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Chapter Summary

From the late 1530s, when the translation of the Scriptures into English was authorised, there rapidly developed a new body of lay Bible-readers with new practices of reading and interpretation of the Bible. While the traditional biblical drama of the late middle ages was gradually suppressed or abandoned, a new generation of plays on scriptural subjects emerged, written by and addressed to these new readers. This paper explores the ways in which mid-sixteenth-century playwrights responded to the lively culture of Bible-reading in the early years of the Reformation. Increased focus on the literal, social and ethical implications of biblical stories guided playwrights towards a greatly expanded body of powerful narratives, which raised challenging human issues, allowing strong theatrical interpretation in relation to contemporary concerns. But the new theatrical strategies do not always sit quite comfortably with the special status accorded by Protestantism to the Bible as the word of God. These Reformation plays begin to suggest crucial tensions between drama and doctrine, inadvertently reinforcing the gradually increasing Protestant unease with the stage as a forum in which to address the Bible.



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