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333 II Reformation

Page history last edited by Eric Leonidas 3 years ago


English 333: The Renaissance – II The Reformation



Study Questions


1.  What are Calvin’s views about human nature and human achievement?  How do his views of these compare to those of one of our humanists as articulated in a specific text or texts from the humanism unit?


2.  How are Faust’s values typically “humanist”?  Is the drama a fight of humanism’s ideals against the ideas of the Reformation?  Or, does Faust fail in his pursuit of humanist values?


3.*  How are Calvin’s views on human nature, salvation, works, or Christian liberty represented in Donne’s religious verse?  Does the speaker in any of the poems seem critical of Calvinist theology?  Or, does he find comfort or assurance in Calvin’s ideas? Please use only one or two poems to advance your idea.


4.  In what ways can Faust serve as a critique of Calvinist (or, more broadly, Reformation) theology? 


5.*  Some scholars have argued that Reformation theology encouraged people to think more about themselves as “selves”—that is, as individuals.  Particularly important are ideas of reading Scripture and seeking evidence of salvation.  Judging from the poetry, or from Faust, what does it mean to be an individual within Protestant ideology?  Do individuals feel free or frustrated?  Comfortable or anxious?  What kind of knowledge do they seek, and where?



Additional Reading


From the Norton Anthology: Tyndale, “The Obedience of a Christian Man,” (542-44); Richard Hooker, “Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity,” (558-563).   Donne: the remainder of the Holy Sonnets (1272-73); George Herbert, “Man” (1604-05).


Colin Burrow, “The Sixteenth Century,” in The Cambridge Companion to English Literature 1500-1600 ed. Arthur F. Kinney (Cambridge, 1997), 11-29.


G.R. Elton, “The Call for Reform,” in Reform and Reformation (Cambridge, 1977), 1-17.


Eugene Rice, “Revolution and Reformation in the Church: The Problem of Authority,” in The Foundations of Early Modern Europe, 1460-1559 (New York, 1970), 122-147.


Jonathan Dollimore, “Dr. Faustus: Subversion through Transgression,” Radical Tragedy (Durham 1993) 109-120 (see me for a copy).



On the Web


Norton: Spiritual Violence of the 16th Century 


Protestant Reformation (From U of Calgary.  A brief but well-organized outline of history of the Reformation.  See especially “Central Beliefs of Protestantism”)


Reformation (Selected writings of Luther, including the 95 theses he nailed to the church door in Wittenberg)


Picture Gallery!



*Writing about poetry can be tricky; we tend to reward ourselves just for figuring out what a poem might be saying, and so we think simply summarizing or describing is enough.  It isn't.  One has to make a claim about meaning. 


Consider Donne's Sonnet 1, which we looked at in class.  One could say, "The speaker worries he can do nothing to help his cause of salvation.  In the end, he gives up, and represents himself as an iron heart in need of a magnet to 'draw' him to God."  There's some implied perspective in there--"gives up"--but it's largely a description of the poem, one no one would agree with.


But consider this:


Humanists such as Pico and Vives celebrate a protean human being whose intellectual aspirations and exertions manifest an inherent divinity.  In his first sonnet, however, John Donne adopts a form associated with Humanist poetry to savagely critique the central notion of human self worth.  To Donne, the human spirit is inevitably as fixed and inert as an iron lump.


By putting the more or less descriptive point about the iron in context of Humanist values I have the poem as commenting on those values, offering a perspective.  And I could argue with that reading:


In his first Holy Sonnet, John Donne's speaker laments his inability to reform himself and calls on God for aid.  In doing so he suggests a Calvinist conviction that he is unworthy of salvation and that his own pleas are powerless.  If he cannot persuade God by his own efforts, however, he can--by his own imaginative effort--conceive of a world in which God's own desires and choices ("election") are irrelevant.  By the end of the poem Donne's speaker invokes a Humanist ideal (the poet as divine maker) and remakes the world in a way that necessitates his own salvation.








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