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Andrew Gordon and Thomas Rist (eds), The Arts of Remembrance in Early Modern England: Memorial Cultures of the Post-Reformation (Ashgate, 2013)

Andrew Gordon and Thomas Rist (eds), The Arts of Remembrance in Early Modern England: Memorial Cultures of the Post Reformation (Farnham: Ashgate, 2013). ISBN: 978-1-4094-4657-6, 259 pp. + vii. £58.50.

Reviewed by Rebeca Helfer

gordon_series 2222 cover.QXD_the arts of remembrance[1] The Arts of Remembrance in Early Modern England: Memorial Cultures of the Post-Reformation offers an important contribution to the field of early modern memory studies. As Andrew Gordon and Thomas Rist explain in their excellent introduction on ‘The Arts of Remembrance’, this study explores the relationship between memory and creativity across a range of forms, and makes a case for the sheer prevalence and even ubiquity of memorial culture in early modern England. They argue, ‘The arts of remembrance were tangible, legible and visible everywhere in the early modern surrounds’, and the essays in the volume bear witness to this fact. In particular, this collection focuses on the relationship between the memory arts and post-Reformation theology, emphasizing transformations in modes of memorializing and the tensions between Catholicism and Protestantism therein. Indeed, this issue provides The Arts of Remembrance with a thematic unity that nevertheless does not limit its impressively wide-ranging exploration of memory in post-Reformation England.

[2] The Arts of Remembrance divides into three parts, the first of which examines the ‘Materials of Remembrance’. The opening chapter by Lucy Wooding on remembrance in relation to the Eucharist illustrates the tensions, the continuities and discontinuities, between Catholic and Protestant ways of memorializing the dead, the ways in which ‘pre-Reformation beliefs and practices were challenged, eroded, reconfigured or quietly retained in post-Reformation society’ (p. 20). Robert Tittler’s essay on portraiture and memory illustrates the use of portraits as ‘mnemonic devices’ directed toward the ‘visual recollection and interpretation of the past’ and that served a legitimating end for their patrons (p. 37). An essay on monumental fixtures and furnishings by Tara Hamling explores the materiality of memory, specifically the English domestic interior as a ‘site of remembrance in early modern England’, arguing that ‘traditional iconographies and visual forms of memorializing migrate from the church to the home in the post-Reformation era’ (p. 59). The final essay of this section, Oliver D. Harris’ essay on the materiality of memory involved in tracing lines of descent, contends that the ‘social mobility of the age’ gave rise to ‘the exaltation of ancestry, and its public expression on tomb monuments’ (p. 85, p. 87).

[3] Part II of the volume, entitled ‘Textual Rites’, contains four essays that examine textual representation of memory. Thomas Rist suggests in his essay on George Herbert’s materialist poetics of memory in The Temple that it at once ‘foregrounds the monumental materials of religion’ and also ‘presents a conflict over whether the place of such materials in religion should be metaphorical, real, or both these things simultaneously’ (p. 122). Tom Healy pursues John Foxe’s ‘art of remembrance’ in Acts and Monuments, and specifically the complex ways that he represents history in an attempt to ‘establish “remembrance” among his early modern readers’ (p. 128). Gerard Kilroy considers the competing accounts or textual memorial contest over ‘the execution of the first Jesuit martyr, Edmund Campion’ asserting that ‘the public … was convinced neither by the state’s rhetoric nor by its elaborately staged performances’ (p. 141, p. 159). Finally, Marie-Louise Coolahan’s essay explores the posthumous construction of female authorship, demonstrating how posthumous ‘acts of memorialization commemorate female literary activity [as] a form of life-writing that centres on the wife’s writing’ and revealing the ways in which ‘women’s writing itself [was] valorized as the proof of Protestant piety’ (p. 176).

[4] Part III of the volume, ‘Theatres of Remembrance’, offers four essays on varied aspects of theatrical memorialization. Philip Schwyzer’s essay proposes that ‘Shakespeare’s histories and tragedies stir up the fantasy that the dead can live, that the past can be recovered in the present, only to dismiss it as an idle and dangerous dream’, a problematic of memorialization that Schwyzer examines in and as dramatic re-enactment (p. 193). Janette Dillon’s essay on scenic memory focuses on Jonson’s The Alchemist and its visual echoes of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, contending that Jonson is ‘consciously drawing on [the] collective scenic memory’ of the early modern theatre audience (p. 209). Rory Loughnane’s contribution on staging remembrance in Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi connects the play’s ‘consciously meta-theatrical’ way of staging and representing the dead with ‘contemporary anxieties about … material and spiritual practices of remembrance for the dead’, particularly in light of the Protestant rejection of Purgatory, further arguing that Webster dramatizes the instabilities of memory in the post-Reformation period (pp. 212-213). In the volume’s final essay, Andrew Gordon pursues the theatrical representation of the dead from a comic rather than tragic perspective, arguing that ‘the comic ghost … proves a potent and adaptable cultural form, a focus for investigating the place of the dead as it was a recurrent figure in debates over the reform and politicization of popular culture’ (p. 231).

[5] The Arts of Remembrance in Early Modern England will be of enormous value to both scholars and students of early modern memory studies, and not only for its unique focus on shifting conceptions of memorial culture in the post-Reformation era. This superb collection demonstrates the intricate links between memory and materiality on the page and the stage, as well as in the world, and illuminates the often unexpected spaces where remembrance was shaped in early modernity. Indeed, one great strength of the volume lies in its expansive approach to the memory arts. As Andrew Gordon and Thomas Rist so aptly conclude, ‘the contested cultural inheritance of the early modern period found no more powerful expression than in the rich flowering of the arts of remembrance’ (p. 15).

University of California-Irvine, July 2015

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