Marlowe and religion

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Religion was central to early modern experience. Far more than just a weekly visit to church, religion underpinned political, social, and domestic structures and influenced everything from education to architecture to land rights. Indeed, its significance was eternal: a matter not just of life and death, but of everlasting salvation or damnation. However, the title of this chapter is something of misnomer: early modern 'religion' was not single, but insistently and troublingly plural. In post-Reformation England, Christianity was fractured into different denominations; repeated shifts in state religion following Henry VIII's break with the Church in Rome in 1533 pushed England back and forth between Catholicism and Protestantism. Divisions within Christianity were further compounded by more frequent confrontations with non-Christian religions. New global trade routes increased contact with Islamic and Jewish merchants and brought encounters with aboriginal inhabitants of the New World whose behaviour seemed to recall the pagan practices of the ancient British past. Thus polemical insistence on 'one' theological truth was made against a plural backdrop that made such claims both urgent and difficult to maintain. Marlowe makes drama out of the tensions produced by this variegated religious situation. Where religion claims to answer questions, Marlowe's plays pose doubts. Indeed, Marlowe problematises the very relationship between religion and meaning: while religious affiliation often drives the action of his plots, it often dissolves rather than determines interpretation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationChristopher Marlowe in Context
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages10
ISBN (Electronic)9781139060882
ISBN (Print)9781107016255
StatePublished - Jan 1 2011
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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