St Cecily as a Pro-Catholic Advocate in Matthew Medbourne's Tragedy Converted Twins (1666)

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Rok publikování 2021
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Fakulta / Pracoviště MU

Filozofická fakulta

Popis Plays with religious themes were certainly not among the most frequent genres of the early-seventeenth-century English theatre, with moderately popular pieces such as William Rowley’s A Shoemaker, A Gentleman (c. 1618) and Thomas Dekker and Philip Massinger’s The Virgin Martyr (1620) being exceptions rather than the rule. This is true even more for the period after the Restoration of the Stuart monarchy on the English throne, when London theatres were mostly preoccupied with heroic plays and sex comedies. Yet in the 1660s, several religious plays appeared that seemed to resonate with the then-current religious tensions in the country. Although we tend to associate the first decade of Charles II’s rule with relative religious toleration, the fact is that anti-Catholic sentiments, brought over from the pre-revolution period, were still strong enough to generate a major political crisis in the late 1670s. Despite the efforts of the King (for instance, the Declaration of Breda of the 1660s), the English Parliament barred all attempts to reach a settlement with Catholicism and minor Protestant movements in the country. Just as in the Renaissance period, Catholics were considered superstitious and, more importantly, dangerous to the state. On the other hand, a number of pro-Catholic pamphlets (such as The Good Catholick No Bad Subject, A Vindication of The Roman Catholicks of the English Nation and Reasons Why Roman-Catholicks Should Not Be Persecuted) appeared in the 1660s, trying to dispel the unfavourable general image of Catholicism and persuade the readers of the Catholics’ loyalty. One of the dramatists who responded to this atmosphere was Matthew Medbourne from the Duke’s Men (whose patron was the future Catholic King James II), who in 1666 wrote his version of the legend of St Cecily, entitled The Converted Twins. While the play quite faithfully follows Alfonso Villegas’s martyrology The Lives of Saints (published in English repeatedly in the 1620s and 1630s) and never openly addresses the then-current religious situation, its relevance for the Restoration period is obvious. Especially St Cecily’s speeches (including her final trial) are invested with the advocacy of the “true Christian faith”, using the language of pro-Catholic discourse of the Restoration. The stress on the theme of the Christian wife who converts both her husband and his brother clearly refers to the Catholic Queen-Consort Catherine of Braganza and Charles II and his brother James. St Cecily, whose legend had been popularised in English by Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, could have been seen as a powerful ally to Medbourne and other member of English Catholic minority. Although Medbourne’s piece was probably never staged and Catholicism did not gain equal status in the Restoration period, the playwright’s wish expressed in the epistle dedicatory that, with the help of the Queen, “the Persecutor” be turned into “the Sufferer” like St Paul, was ultimately fulfilled with Charles’s and Jame’s conversion some years later. The proposed presentation will argue that Medbourne’s little-known hagiographic play should be considered as a thinly-veiled political work that, very topically, called for an open toleration of English Catholics and criticised the anti-Catholic hysteria that once again started to dominate the English political discourse of the period.
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