Sacramental Magic and Animate Statues in Edmund Spenser, William Shakespeare, and John Milton
Delsigne, Jill Renee
Skura, Meredith A.
Doctor of Philosophy
"Sacramental Magic" explores the animate statue in early modem romance as an emblem of the potential spiritually transformative power of objects. The tendency of New Historicism to "empty out" theology from Catholicism overlooks the continued power of sacred objects in Reformation literature. My dissertation joins the recent turn to religion in early modern studies--Catholic doctrine and religious experience explain the startling presence of benevolent animate statues in Spenser, Shakespeare, and Milton; one would expect these statues to be empty idols, but instead they animate, revealing a real presence of the divine. I first investigate Spenser's Egyptian lexicon for the Catholic veneration of sacred images in the Temple of Isis in the Faerie Queene. Embedding Britomart's dream vision of an English empire in Egyptian mythology creates a translatio imperii from Egypt to Rome to England, transferring not only political but also religious power. The Isis statue's transformation of Britomart bears striking textual and visual correlations to John Dee's hermetic Monas Hieroglyphica. For Shakespeare, ermetic magic emblematizes the sacrament of penance. Shakespeare's claim "to make men glorious" suggests that Pericles transforms its audience by effecting, not merely signifying, grace. The play emblematizes the restorative aspects of reconciliation, the antidote to the seven deadly sins, with alchemical and medical imagery, culminating in Cerimon's reanimation of Thaisa through an Egyptian magic based on the hermetic ritual to ensoul statues. The Winter's Tale continues Shakespeare's meditation upon the emotional metamorphoses produced by reconciliation. I argue that Shakespeare creates an affective communion among the audience members and the characters, an effect similar to the workings of the Holy Spirit in a Mass, emblematized by the hermetic animation of Hermione. The final chapter examines the Catholic and hermetic parallels in Milton's "Il Penseroso" and Comus. In both works, Milton traces a shared system of correspondences underlying Catholicism and hermeticism in order to explore the relationship between objects and the immaterial, through angelology, Ficinian music theory, the contemplative lives of nuns, the Catholic sacrament of Extreme Unction, and ritual exorcism.