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Dancing before the Lord: Renaissance Ludics and Incarnational Discourse

Wright, Jarrell (2015) Dancing before the Lord: Renaissance Ludics and Incarnational Discourse. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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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 complexity of the English Reformation, and a richer vocabulary for play theorists working with ludic discourses. A conclusion considers these implications and explains why Renaissance thinkers might have chosen a ludic mode of imitative worship—God’s grace and creation are themselves forms of play.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Wright, Jarrelljdw14@pitt.eduJDW14
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairTwyning, Johntwyning@pitt.eduTWYNING
Committee MemberKnapp,
Committee MemberMacCabe, Colinmaccabe@pitt.eduMACCABE
Committee MemberWaldron, Jenniferjwaldron@pitt.eduJWALDRON
Date: 23 June 2015
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 31 March 2015
Approval Date: 23 June 2015
Submission Date: 7 April 2015
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 389
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > English
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Renaissance literature; play theory; rhetoric; Donne, John; Herbert, George; sermonology; anamorphoses; art history and criticism; shaped verse; English Reformation history; word and image
Date Deposited: 23 Jun 2015 19:18
Last Modified: 26 May 2021 12:26


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