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Moral Identity in Early Modern English Literature
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  • Page extent: 236 pages
  • Size: 228 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 0.52 kg

Library of Congress

  • Dewey number: 820.9/38241
  • Dewey version: 22
  • LC Classification: PR428.C48 C44 2004
  • LC Subject headings:
    • English literature--Early modern, 10-1700--History and criticism
    • Christian ethics in literature
    • English literature--Protestant authors--History and criticism
    • Religion and literature--England--History--16th century
    • Religion and literature--England--History--17th century

Library of Congress Record


 (ISBN-13: 9780521838078 | ISBN-10: 052183807X)


Paul Cefalu’s study explores the relationship between moral character and religious conversion in the poetry and prose of Sidney, Spenser, Donne, Herbert, and Milton, as well as in early modern English Conformist and Puritan sermons, theological tracts, and philosophical treatises. Cefalu argues that early modern Protestant theologians were often unable to incorporate a coherent theory of practical morality into the order of salvation. Cefalu draws on new historicist theories of ideology and subversion, but takes issue with the new historicist tendency to conflate generic and categorical distinctions among texts. He argues that imaginative literature, by virtue of its tendency to place characters in approximately real ethical quandaries, uniquely points out the inability of early modern English Protestant theology to merge religious theory and ethical practice. This study should appeal not only to literary critics and historians, but also to scholars interested in the history of moral theory.

PAUL CEFALU is Assistant Professor of English at Lafayette College, Pennsylvania. He is the author of Revisionist Shakespeare: Transitional Ideologies in Texts and Contexts (forthcoming) and has published widely in such journals as ELH, Shakespeare Studies, and Studies in Philology.


Lafayette College

The Pitt Building, Trumpington Street, Cambridge, United Kingdom

The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge, CB2 2RU, UK
40 West 20th Street, New York, NY 10011–4211, USA
477 Williamstown Road, Port Melbourne, VIC 3207, Australia
Ruiz de Alarcón 13, 28014 Madrid, Spain
Dock House, The Waterfront, Cape Town 8001, South Africa

© Paul Cefalu 2004

This book is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception
and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements,
no reproduction of any part may take place without
the written permission of Cambridge University Press.

First published 2004

Printed in the United Kingdom at the University Press, Cambridge

Typeface Adobe Garamond 11/12.5 pt.   System LATEX 2e   [TB]

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

Library of Congress Cataloguing in Publication data
Cefalu, Paul.
Moral identity in early modern English literature / Paul Cefalu.
p.   cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
1. English literature – Early modern, 1500–1700 – History and criticism.   2. Christian ethics in literature.   3. English literature – Protestant authors – History and criticism.   4. Religion and literature – England – History – 16th centur.   5. Religion and literature – England – History – 17th century.   6. Protestantism and literature – History–16th century.   7. Protestantism and literature – History – 17th century.   8. Identity (Psychology) in literature.   9. Group identity in literature.   10. Ethics in literature.   I. Title.
PR428.C48C44   2004
820.9′38241 – dc22   2004048598

ISBN 0 521 83807 X hardback

For Anna


Acknowledgments page ix
  Introduction: English Protestant moral theory and regeneration 1
1   Shame, guilt, and moral character in early modern English Protestant theology and Sir Philip Sidney’s Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia 17
2   The three orders of nature, grace, and law in Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, Book II 47
3   Conformist and puritan moral theory: from Richard Hooker’s natural law theory to Richard Sibbes’s ethical occasionalism 77
4   The elect body in pain: Godly fear and sanctification in John Donne’s poetry and prose 115
5   Absent neighbors in George Herbert’s “The Church,” or Why Agape becomes Caritas in English Protestant devotional poetry 134
6   Moral pragmatism in the theology of John Milton and his contemporaries 157
  Epilogue: theorizing early modern moral selfhood 189
Notes 198
Index 222


This study began under the guidance of Richard Strier and Jay Schleusener at the University of Chicago. Over many years, Richard has brought his scholarly example, passion for theological matters, and incisive editorial comments and criticisms to bear on all of my work. Always tough-minded and rigorous, he has been a remarkable critic, mentor, and friend. I thank him for making this work possible. I thank Jay for his support as well, particularly the philosophical acumen with which he assessed early drafts of this study. Over the years, I have also received indispensable advice from Joshua Scodel, whose scholarship has provided a benchmark for research in early modern ethics and literature, and David Bevington, whose generosity and fair-mindedness are examples to all of us in academe.

   At Lafayette College, Lynn Van Dyke and Susan Blake have, as respective chairs of my department, graciously provided me with a flexible teaching schedule that allowed time for research. I thank Lynn, Susan, James Woolley, and Bryan Washington for their ongoing support of my teaching and research. I extend a special thanks to Lee Upton and Eric Ziolkowski, two individuals who seem to have an effortless ability to integrate kindness and professionalism. Eric’s interest in this study provided me with the impetus I needed to complete the final version of the manuscript. I have also benefited from the diligent work of two research assistants, both students at Lafayette College: Brian Want, an Excel scholar who spent the summer of 1998 poring over twelve volumes of Calvin’s New Testament commentaries (which hopefully has not turned him off to scholarship entirely); and Jeb Madigan, who meticulously proofread an earlier draft of this study. My good friend Owen McLeod also deserves thanks for his good humor and insights on ethical theory.

   This study could not have been undertaken without the support of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, which provided me with a Newcomb Fellowship in 1997–8. I also thank Lafayette College for a year leave during which I made final revisions on the manuscript; many thanks to the staff of Skillman Library, as well, particularly Kandyce Fisher, for her expertise and patience.

   It has been a pleasure to work with Ray Ryan, my editor at Cambridge University Press. Ray has provided astute and expeditious advice at every step of preparing this manuscript for publication. I also thank the two readers for Cambridge University Press for their exacting comments on an earlier version of this study.

   This book is about, among other things, virtuous dispositions of character. It might well be about my father, who I believe exemplifies the classical ideal of the unity of virtue. I thank him for his unwavering encouragement of my work.

   Anna Siomopoulos, the dedicatee of this book, inspires me on a daily basis with her brilliance and integrity. Aristotle, if only he could have met her, would have acknowledged her as a great-souled woman.

   A version of chapter 4 appeared as “Godly Fear, Sanctification, and Calvinist Theology in the Sermons and ‘Holy Sonnets’ of John Donne,” Studies in Philology Volume 100. Copyright © 2003 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. A version of chapter 6 is a revised version of “Moral Pragmatism in the Theology of Milton and His Contemporaries, or Habitus Historicized,” by Paul Cefalu from Milton Studies XXXIX, Albert C. Labriola, Ed., © 2000 by University of Pittsburgh Press. I thank the editors of these journals for their permission to reuse this material.

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