By Jennifer Waldron (auth.)
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Extra info for Reformations of the Body: Idolatry, Sacrifice, and Early Modern Theater
Leontes’s reformation of his hard heart seems to help to bring the statue of Hermione to life at the close of The Winter’s Tale. And while Othello’s stony heart drives his murder of Desdemona, the death scene draws attention to her body as a site for miraculous interventions: in the brief moment of her revival, the body of the actor appears as a providential (stage) property that lies beyond human control. As in the closing of The Winter’s Tale, this moment is also highly metatheatrical, engaging the eyes and ears of the audience in an unpredictable experience of watching a live actor playing dead (and then briefly coming back to life).
Human bodies are not “to be worshipped,” as Oldcastle admonishes, yet in the absence of sacred objects and of the divinely ordained hierarchy of the Catholic Church, they become a conduit for God’s self-manifestation in the world. Opponents of Protestantism seized on this point, as in a satirical broadside about Luther and his followers titled “Anatomia M. 2). This “anatomy” of the dead Luther follows the iconography of a Last Supper, with 11 of Luther’s “disciples” arrayed around the “communion table” on which his body lies.
Lollard writings about living images share their emphasis on social justice with the later satires of Erasmus. Yet they also develop in England the stronger theological dimensions of this argument: as the privileged fabrication of God, the living human being is wholly unlike the dead images made by human hands. Like Foxe’s account of Oldcastle, discussed in the introduction, many of these stories suggested that the bodies of the worshippers or martyrs offered a kind of “real presence” of the divine.