Playing the Martyr

Playing the Martyr
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Theater and Theology in Early Modern France
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Christopher Semk
Scènes Francophones
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Playing the Martyr is the first English-language book devoted to the productive encounter between theater and religion in early modern France. Drawing on a wide range of sources, Playing the Martyr investigates how early modern playwrights and critics engaged with religion both on stage and off in order to reflect on the nature of theater.
Playing the Martyr is a book about the interplay between theater and religion in early modern France. Challenging the standard narrative of modernity as a process of increased secularization Christopher Semk demonstrates the centrality of religious thought and practices to the development of neoclassical poetics. Engaging with a broad corpus of religious plays, poetic treatises, devotional literature, and contemporary theory, Semk shows that religion was a vital interlocutor in early modern discussions concerning the definition of verisimilitude, the nature and purpose of spectacle, the mechanics of acting, and the position of the spectator. Well researched and persuasively argued, Playing the Martyr makes the case for a more complicated approach to the relationship between religion and literature, namely, one that does not treat religion as a theme deployed within literary works, but as an active player in literary invention. Indeed, it makes the case for a serious reconsideration of the role that religion plays in the development of modern, secular literary forms.

Introduction: A Christian Melpomene?

Chapter 1: The Separation of Church and Stage

Chapter 2: The Spectacle of Martyrdom and the Spectacle of the Stage

Chapter 3: “Ex histrionis martyr factus:” Genesius, Acting, and Martyrdom

Chapter 4: Polyeucte, martyr and Corneille’s Sacramental Poetics

Epilogue: Theater and Theology at the Threshold of Modernity



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