When we cover Paradise Lost Book II, I like to focus on the hellish debate that begins the book. It gives us a chance to examine Milton’s rhetorical skill and his gift of characterization. I assign four groups one devil apiece, ask them to defend their devil’s cause and come up with the weaknesses of the other three (note: Milton already has Belial, Mammon, and Beelzebub do that). We then follow up our informal debate with an exploration of how Milton shows each debater corrupting a cardinal virtue. We save the Sin/Death/Satan triad for the next class when we discuss the council in heaven.
One of my major teaching shifts this semester has been to shift my daily writing prompts to outside class. I tend to mix more personal prompts—ones that take a key formal or thematic element from the work we’re reading and ask students to apply that concept to their own lives—or more “get your hands dirty” analysis exercise. Here are the five different prompts I used for our five classes on King Lear. Continue reading “Daily Writing Prompts: King Lear”
In Lori Anne Ferrell’s survey of English persuasions from 1580-1620, she starts with the new critical commonplace that the English Reformation was a top-down affair. While English was a Protestant nation, it was not comprised of Protestants. Her article attempts to unpack that paradox.
Ferrell marks 1580 as a turning point at Protestantism became more accepted publicly. The reason it took this long? Catholicism was at the heart of English communal life, and its numerous daily practices and rituals were ingrained into the public’s consciousness. Henry was not a particular clear advocate for Protestantism, and his church looked more like a Catholic church that had him as a pope. In 1547, with Edward VI’s accession, Protestantism finally had political power, but the greatest expression of Protestantism from that period is a Book of Common Prayer, a liturgical manual that had a very slow impact. Once Mary took over in 1553, the culture turned back to Catholicism though Mary did spawn John Foxe and his Acts and Monuments. Elizabeth’s government was stocked with Calvinists though her subjects were largely Catholic.
Ferrell claims that the strengths of the Protestant English church were the same as its weaknesses. They were top-down. Cambridge was a clearly Protestant school. Committees and administrative types helped determine proper sermons and church structure. This left the English subjects often unimpressed however. It was only with the emergence of an English national identity and the defeat of the Catholic power Spain in 1588 that England started to self-identify as Protestant. Unfortunately for the “hotter” Protestants, this also meant that the public wanted a more moderate and nationalistic form of religion. Elizabeth in particular was great at consigning items into the adiaphoric category, the bin of things indifferent. Puritans were the Protestants who couldn’t let such matters go, particularly since their form of church government threatened the state relationship with the church. This tension exposed the ways that social and religious structures were integrated in Elizabeth’s England.
For these hotter Protestants, things appeared to be looking up with James, a Scottish king with a Calvinist background. While he worked on theological consensus and was quite moderate, he ended up labeling the Puritans immoderate and fostered a dynamic of Protestant vs. Protestant. When he tried to marry his son to a Spanish princess, all bets were off. The more fiery Protestants perfected the use of print: be it texts for less educated people, more theologically oriented texts, Bibles, and even sermons. These forty years of Protestant continuity finally erupted in the Civil War. To get a handle on what was at stake in that conflict, Ferrell urges us to examine the dense textual record from this forty year period, the most lasting testament to the period’s religious persuasions.