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The Controversy Between The Puritans and the Stage (1903, Yale Studies in English) by Elbert N. S. Thompson

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Resource Details

Full Title:
The Controversy Between The Puritans and the Stage (1903, Yale Studies in English)
Author:
Elbert N. S. Thompson
Media:
Digital Download (Adobe PDF)
Searchable:
Yes
PDF Index:
Embedded, Appended
Pages:
276
File Size:
8.18 MB
Publisher:
Still Waters Revival Books

Resource Description

This book gives a detailed account of the Puritans' opposition to theater and the various reasons why they opposed it.

Thompson analyzes the most important Puritan writings against stage-plays, and sets them in historical context. This includes a whole chapter on William Prynne's massive blast against the stage, Histro-Mastic, the Players Scourge.

He also looks at how supporters of theater, especially the playwrights, defended plays and attacked and mocked the Puritans. This latter part is interesting because it shows that Puritans were the object of abuse in a number of plays in the 1600s, much like Christians today are caricatured on television and in movies. William Shakespeare, however, deliberately avoided offending Puritans. Shakespeare thought highly of the Lollards, and if he was "unwilling even apparently to ridicule a Lollard, it is not unreasonable to suppose that he would have been unwilling to mock, even in a general way, the Puritans of his own day" (pp. 252-253).

Thompson gives a relatively balanced account of the controversy, and points out that the Puritans had good reason to oppose the theatre of their day. The plays were frequently obscene and immoral. Furthermore, they were often performed on the Lord's Day, which was a clear Sabbath violation.

Thompson concludes that "we must admit that the Puritan was led to his position by the sense of public order and morality, and that his just sentence stopped the vileness of a rapidly deteriorating drama" (p. 266).

Ultimately, this book is useful in demonstrating that the Puritans (broadly speaking) where not necessarily against all stage plays per se, but rather against the abuse of them (which was common in their day). Moreover, some Puritans themselves, as Scholes points out (in The Puritans and Music), approved of the opera -- and earlier Reformers like John Foxe, the famous martyrologist, even wrote a play himself (titled Christus Triumphans)!

Furthermore, Thompson notes that "Calvin seems to have yielded to the popular demand for stage-plays" (p. 262n) and the Westminster Larger Catechism (Answer 139) is careful to condemn "lascivious" stage plays, not all stage plays in general. This is in keeping with the rulings of the Scottish General Assembly concerning stage plays as noted below, For as much as it is considered that the playing of clerk-plays, comedies, or tragedies upon the canonical parts of Scripture, induceth and bringeth in with a contempt and profanation of the same.

Therefore it is thought meet, and ordained that no clerk-plays, comedies and tragedies be acted of the canonical Scriptures either of the New or Old Testament on the Sabbath day or work days in time coming; and that the contraveeners, if they be Ministers, be deprived of their function; if others, that they be censured and disciplined of the Kirk. And that an article be given in to such as sit upon policy that comedies, tragedies, and other profane plays which are not made upon authentic parts of Scripture, may be considered before they be acted publicly, and that they be not acted upon the Lord's Day (Edinburgh, March, 1575)... That his Grace would discharge the plays of Robin Hood, King of May, and such others on the Sabbath Day (Edinburgh, April, 1577) (David Calderwood, True History of the Church of Scotland, one volume edition, pp. 822, 823, 825).

It should also be noted, that though the author is not an outright friend of Puritanism, he does attempt to be objective and has thus produced a study full of many useful references, source documentation and otherwise hard-to-find research on this topic. 


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