Reading Martyred Signs: Reformation Hermeneutics and English Literature


ACLS Fellowship Program



Named Award

ACLS Carl and Betty Pforzheimer Fellow named award


In the Reformation, how to read the Bible divided Catholics from Protestants, and the stakes of interpretation included torture, death, and damnation. For whereas modern humanists accept and even celebrate ambiguity, the Reformation insisted with the full force of state violence that interpretation can and must be stable. “Reading Martyred Signs” argues the Reformation’s brutal struggles to stabilize interpretation actually generated an unstable interpretive environment that exerted a defining influence on Renaissance literature across forms and genres. This project first applies the methodologies of formalist literary criticism to religious texts more often studied by historians and theologians; it then uses these theological insights to shed new light on canonical literary texts. “Reading Martyred Signs” thus helps advance a more comprehensive account of the Renaissance that integrates the obsessions and violence of the Reformation into literary study to shed new light on sixteenth-century religious experience, poetry, and reading.