The Penitential Psalms in sixteenth-century England : bodies and texts
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At the center of this thesis are seven psalms, commonly known as the Penitential Psalms. The Penitential Psalms were often used in connection to corporeal expressions of the sacrament, and though sacramental practices changed, they retained this association, and even became a catalyst for literary change and experimentation. In this thesis, I will show how these psalms were connected to the sacrament of penance throughout the medieval period, and well into the religiously tumultuous sixteenth century. This thesis explores four texts that take up the Penitential Psalms, adapting, refashioning, and reappropriating them to be used in different ways. The Introduction outlines the history of the Penitential Psalms and their interconnectedness with sacramental theology and practice; it further establishes the cultural and theoretical context within which the four examined texts must be considered. These sacramental ties with the Penitential Psalms are not found only in theological writings, but they also infused lay practice and experience, as I will show in Chapter One, where I examine the staunchly Protestant Actes and Monuments by John Foxe. Additionally, I argue that Foxe’s accounts of Marian martyrs point to Psalm 51 both as a text of protest and memorialization. Chapter Two then moves to Sir Thomas Wyatt’s A Paraphrase of the Penitential Psalms; there I examine the presence of the male body within the work, placing the text within the setting of a visual history that illustrates David’s illicit desire for Bathsheba. With this tradition in mind, I examine trajectories of ocularity within the narrative, tracing the redirection of sexual desire. Anne Lock’s Meditation of a Pentient Sinner is the center of Chapter Three. Meditation, when considered in relation to the dedicatory epistle, reveals connections to the standardized penitential process, and I argue that Lock presents a modified form of repentance to her reader. The final chapter looks at The Sidney Psalter’s Penitential Psalms, which reveal an incoherent view of the penitential body merging with the body of the dead war-hero, Philip. It is within this penitential affect that the penitent displays and partitions his or her own body slipping into an otherness predicated by sin.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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