Shadow and Substance is the first book to present a sustained examination of the relationship between Eucharistic controversy and English drama across the Reformation divide. In this compelling interdisciplinary study, Jay Zysk contends that the Eucharist is not just a devotional object or doctrinal crux, it also shapes a way of thinking about physical embodiment and textual interpretation in theological and dramatic contexts.
Regardless of one’s specific religious identity, to speak of the Eucharist during that time was to speak of dynamic interactions between body and sign. In crossing periodic boundaries and revising familiar historical narratives, Shadow and Substance challenges the idea that the Protestant Reformation brings about a decisive shift from the flesh to the word, the theological to the poetic, and the sacred to the secular. The book also adds to studies of English drama and Reformation history by providing an account of how Eucharistic discourse informs understandings of semiotic representation in broader cultural domains.
This bold study offers fresh, imaginative readings of theology, sermons, devotional books, and dramatic texts from a range of historical, literary, and religious perspectives. Each of the book’s chapters creates a dialogue between different strands of Eucharistic theology and different varieties of English drama. Spanning England’s long reformation, these plays—some religious in subject matter, others far more secular—reimagine semiotic struggles that stem from the controversies over Christ’s body at a time when these very concepts were undergoing significant rethinking in both religious and literary contexts.
Shadow and Substance will have a wide appeal, especially to those interested in medieval and early modern drama and performance, literary theory, Reformation history, and literature and religion.
Jay Zysk is assistant professor of English at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.
“This ambitious book not only bridges early English drama studies and theological history but offers a model for crossing the periodization borders of medieval and early modern. Jay Zysk seems very much in command as he negotiates notoriously difficult primary texts and complex semiotic theory with a level of detail that is as lucid as it is exacting. This is a compelling book, and it is written with verve, learning, and conviction.”—Gail McMurray Gibson, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor Emerita of English and Humanities, Davidson College
"Shadow and Substance makes a convincing case that the issues of the Eucharist controversies are echoed in medieval and early modern drama and that we should not underestimate the importance of religion to these plays. Zysk’s interpretive model leads, chapter after chapter, to original and resonant analyses of the plays in question. The clarity and comprehensiveness of these chapters will make them especially attractive to a variety of interested students and scholars. The scholarship is truly impressive." —Kent Cartwright, University of Maryland
"Religious reformation is for Jay Zysk 'not a fixed epistemological shift' but rather 'a constellation of diverse theological and semiotic positions asserted and interpreted over time.' This well-written book asks for a reading of early English drama that is not dogmatic in choosing one side or the other, and readers should find its arguments worth pondering as issues of critical interpretation." —David Bevington, emeritus, University of Chicago
"Across a broad range of resources, this book explicates enduring intersections of linguistic signs and dramatic texts with human and sacred bodies, thereby demonstrating the enormous, if not always immediately evident, influence of Eucharistic semiotics on medieval and early modern creative expression. Zysk’s learned and imaginatively conceived study of dramatic sacramental theology poses new, indeed essential, frames of reference for thinking about early English theater, religion, and literary history." —Theresa Coletti, University of Maryland
“In performing what essentially amounts to synchronic criticism, this book sustains a welcome re-periodization of English drama across the fifteenth, sixteenth, and early seventeenth centuries. More broadly, Zysk provides a non-diachronic model for other scholars whose work sits on either end of the Middle Ages as well as for studies on topics, such as sexuality, race, and performance, that defy the normal junctures of received periodization.” —The Medieval Review,
"Zysk’s insightful and well-structured approach studies Christ’s Eucharistic body as a semiotic goldmine from which differing religious and philosophical interpretations influence the writing and performances of late medieval and early modern English drama. His clearly written original argument reveals how the semiotics of the bread and wine, word and flesh of the sacrament, are given surprising new contexts in each play." —Parergon
“Drawing on an impressive range of theological and dramatic writings, this deeply researched and elegantly written book thereby offers a new model both for the reading of medieval and early modern drama and for thinking about the periodization of literary history.” —Early Theatre
“By traversing the medieval-Renaissance divide, Zysk’s work synthesizes and extends important work on the Eucharist that limits itself to pre- or post-Reformation contexts.” —Renaissance Quarterly
“The book’s incisive accounts of eucharistic debates, practices and reception history alongside its insightful semiotic analysis would easily open into conversation with constructive theologies of liturgy and sacrament.” —Worship