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Common Prayer

The Language of Public Devotion in Early Modern England

Common Prayer explores the relationship between prayer and poetry in the century following the Protestant Reformation. Ramie Targoff challenges the conventional and largely misleading distinctions between the ritualized world of Catholicism and the more individualistic focus of Protestantism. Early modern England, she demonstrates, was characterized less by the triumph of religious interiority than by efforts to shape public forms of devotion. This provocatively revisionist argument will have major implications for early modern studies.

Through readings of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Richard Hooker’s Lawes of Ecclesiastical Politie, Philip Sidney’s Apology for Poetry and his translations of the Psalms, John Donne’s sermons and poems, and George Herbert’s The Temple, Targoff uncovers the period’s pervasive and often surprising interest in cultivating public and formalized models of worship. At the heart of this study lies an original and daring approach to understanding the origins of devotional poetry; Targoff shows how the projects of composing eloquent verse and improving liturgical worship come to be deeply intertwined. New literary practices, then, became a powerful means of forging common prayer, or controlling private and otherwise unmanageable expressions of faith.

176 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2001

Literature and Literary Criticism: British and Irish Literature

Religion: Religion and Literature

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Author’s note on spelling and editions
Introduction—The Performance of Prayer
1. Common Prayer
2. Reading Prayer: Spontaneity and Conformity
3. Prayer and Poetry: Rhyme in the English Church
4. George Herbert and the Devotional Lyric
Conclusion—The Bay Psalm Book: From Common Prayer to Common Poems


Conference on Christianity and Lit.: Conference on Christianity and Literature Book Award

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