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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Dancing before the Lord: Renaissance ludics and incarnational discourse
by Wright, Jarrell D., Ph.D., University of Pittsburgh, 2015, 390; 3725605
Abstract (Summary)

Play is a manifestation of overflowing excess. When applied to the study of discourse, this bounty can be understood in terms of figurativeness and depth. If “degree-zero” discourse is the almost entirely unfigured language of an instruction manual, then verse lies near the other extreme: highly figured and elaborate language open to rich interpretive possibilities. I posit a further pole yet on this continuum: the hyperabundant texts of the Renaissance, when ludics were at a height partially quashed by the Enlightenment preference for the plain style. These ludic texts are not merely decorative but rather reflect the incarnational impulse of Renaissance Christian thought; they attempt to praise and to imitate the power of Divine language, in which Word is made Flesh in the West’s master model of superabundance, grace through Christ’s Incarnation and Sacrifice.

This project conducts three case studies of playfully incarnational discourses during the Renaissance: in speech, in imagery, and in verse. First, it analyzes sermons by John Donne that reflect candidly on the power of Donne’s own ludic speech, concluding that his transgressive, gamelike rhetoric was oriented toward stimulating responsive action. Next, it examines period images through the lens of contemporary popular works that conceive of images as puzzles to be decoded, solved, and read, concluding that period anamorphoses and similar works were efforts to infuse images with lively presence in a way that helps to account for iconophobic and iconophilic strains in English Reformation thought. Finally, it reads George Herbert’s deceptively simple poem, “The Altar,” examining how the piece may be understood as an intervention into the shaped-verse tradition and how it reflects on period debates about Church fabric, concluding that the toylike or tricklike construction evokes the Eucharistic presence of the Divine in Herbert’s worshipful meditation.

At stake are a greater appreciation for Renaissance artistry, a fuller understanding of the complexityof the English Reformation, and a richer vocabularyfor play theorists working with ludic discourses. A conclusion considers these implications and explains whyRenaissance thinkers might have chosen a ludic mode of imitative worship—God’s grace and creation are themselves forms of play.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Twyning, John
School: University of Pittsburgh
School Location: United States -- Pennsylvania
Source: DAI-A 77/02(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Religious history, Art Criticism, British and Irish literature
Keywords: Donne, John, English Reformation, Herbert, George, Play theory, Rhetoric, Sermonology, Shaped verse, Word and image
Publication Number: 3725605
ISBN: 978-1-339-09961-3
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