Enacting Sacrament: Ritual and Agency in the Poetry of Spenser and Milton

Smith, Sarah, English - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Fowler, Elizabeth, Department of English, University of Virginia

“Enacting Sacrament” studies episodes in the works of Edmund Spenser and John Milton that test and interpret the paradoxical doctrines of Protestant sacramental theology. Protestant reformers argued that the sacraments—the ceremonies that make manifest the mysteries of divine grace—should be understood as divine gifts and not as human works, despite the fact that humans initiate and participate in them. Through readings of The Faerie Queene, A Masque presented at Ludlow Castle, and Paradise Lost, I show how poetry, by enacting this complex doctrine in particular narrative episodes, is able to engage substantively and uniquely in theological debate. My study focuses in particular on the capacities of allegory and metaphor to embody Protestant sacramental theology’s puzzling doctrines and expose their contradictions.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
John Milton, Edmund Spenser, Religion and Literature, Renaissance, Poetry, Reformation, Sacrament
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