The hardline, uncompromising theology preached by the English
Church in the 16th and 17th Centuries had disturbing effects on the
literature of the period. This study, originally published in 1983,
assesses the importance of the prevailing religious climate to the
work of several major writers, both in and out of sympathy with the
contemporary protestantism. It is argued that the accepted view of
the period as essentially 'Christian-Humanist' obscures the harsher
aspects of a Calvinism which throws into relief the agonies of a
writer like Donne, the acceptances of one like George Herbert.
Many writers rejected more or less explicitly the Christian
dogma, through the heroic assertion of human potential in
Shakespearean and other dramatic characters, the nihilism of
Marlowe, or the secular rationalism of Bacon and Hobbes. Milton is
central to this complex weft of belief and rejection, piety and
atheism, acceptance of predestination and determination to accept
fate, that characterises the period.
Finally, Sinfield shows how this protestantism disintegrated
under the strain of internal contradictions and external pressures,
and in the process helped to stimulate secularism. In this original
and clearly written book, scholarship is deployed unobstrusively to
place many major works in an unaccustomed and stimulating
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