University of Notre Dame
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Members of His Body: Christ's Passion and Community in Early Modern English Poetry, 1595-1646

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posted on 2010-07-12, 00:00 authored by Joseph Robert Teller
This dissertation studies representations of the most significant event of Christian history--the Passion of Christ--in English devotional poetry in the post-Reformation period. The Passion was central for both Catholic and Protestant writers in early modern England, and, despite the period's widening theological and confessional distinctions, writers drew on a common set of devotional discourses in order to represent Christ's Passion in a variety of literary genres, and especially in poetry. In examining the Passion as a set of discursive strategies visible in a variety of texts across confessional lines, this study challenges traditional scholarly accounts of devotional poetry in Renaissance England, accounts which typically isolate Catholic and Protestant writers from one another and which privilege theological or confessional identities over shared representational strategies. Additionally, this study complicates recent critical claims that the Passion receded in literature as the seventeenth-century progressed. By privileging previously neglected Catholic writers such as William Alabaster and John Beaumont and contextualizing their work against broader discursive traditions of the Passion, this dissertation rethinks our conceptions of mainstream and marginal writing in seventeenth-century England.

After identifying a set of trans-confessional representational strategies common to Catholics and Protestants, this dissertation then examines the poetry of Robert Southwell, William Alabaster, John Donne, Sir John Beaumont, and Richard Crashaw in order to discover how each poet appropriates the Passion to speak to problems of ecclesial and political community in seventeenth-century England. While each writer adapts similar Passion discourses to his work, each also enlists the Passion to critique and construct various visions of the church, of political community, and of literary communities. Ultimately, in arguing that the Passion continued to be vital to English poets for engaging questions of communal identity, Members of His Body suggests that future study of the period must reconsider how received accounts of the waning of Catholicism and the ascendancy of Protestantism shape traditional and often incomplete accounts of English literary history in the post-Reformation period.


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Defense Date


Research Director(s)

Susannah Monta

Committee Members

Stephen Fallon Graham Hammill


  • Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Level

  • Doctoral Dissertation


  • English

Alternate Identifier



University of Notre Dame

Program Name

  • English

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