Confession in Literature from Webster to Defoe
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As England attempted to define its Confession of faith during the Reformation, there were vacillations between Catholicism and Protestantism, via-media Protestantism and orthodox Calvinism. This led to widespread debate about the performance of confession. This study explores early modern English literary and autobiographical texts which depict fictional or actual confessions, and which engage with, or offer perspectives on, Reformation debates about confession. Employing the methodologies of historicism and formalism, examining theological positions on confession and drawing on a Foucauldian socio-political view of confession, I examine works of drama, spiritual autobiography and fiction to demonstrate continuities and contrasts between Protestant and Catholic confession. I focus on three key issues: Protestant confessional practices for their similarity to Catholic confession in terms of facilitating socio-religious discipline; how the Protestant repudiation of the authority of the father confessor, the emphasis on personal conscience and the development of written Calvinist confessional modes produced resistance to Protestant confessional discipline; and how Calvinist confessional practices failed to provide adequate consolation to 'sinners'. I also explore the mutual dependency and inherent compatibility of confessional authority and wider patriarchal authority. I argue that Reformation upheavals in the traditional confessional system impacted on wider relations pertaining to the individual and authority, and facilitated the development of more complex identities.