Few subjects of the English stage have proved more alluring and enduring than religious conversion. The emergence of the Elizabethan theatre marked a profound shift in the way in which conversion was presented. If medieval drama had encouraged conversion without reservation, early Elizabethan plays started to question it. Considering over forty canonical and lesser known works, this study argues that more so than any other medium, early modern drama engaged with the question of the possibility of undergoing a radical transformation in faith and presented the period's understanding of it as fundamentally unsettled. Offering the first cross-religious exploration of conversion in early modern English drama, and presenting a new reading of William Shakespeare's tragedy Othello, Lieke Stelling reveals telling patterns in the stage's treatment of conversion and religious identity.
Lieke Stelling is Assistant Professor in English at Universiteit Utrecht, The Netherlands. She has published articles on early modern literature in English Literary Renaissance and Shakespeare Jahrbuch, and co-edited The Turn of The Soul: Representations of Religious Conversion in Early Modern Art and Literature, with Harald Hendrix and Todd M. Richardson (2012).
Part I. Spiritual Conversion: 1. 'Be by me converted': medieval and reformation drama; 2. 'The whole summe of Christianitie': spiritual conversion in protestant sermons; 3. ''Twas I but 'tis not I': dramatic transformations of spiritual conversion; Part II. Interfaith Conversion: 4. 'More stable and perfect faith': religious diversification and the paradox of interfaith conversion; 5. 'False runagates' and 'superlunatical hypocrites': securing religious identity on the stage; 6. 'Most beautiful pagan; most sweet Jew': preserving Christianity in authentic conversions; 7. 'For Christian shame': Othello's assimilation into Venice.