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Title: Uses of "supernatural" in England in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries
Author: Gordon, C. B.
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 1999
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In The Mystery of the Supernatural (1967), Henri de Lubac suggests that the relegation of aspects of experience regarded as supernatural into a distinct conceptual realm played an important role in the secularization of Western thought. This dissertation endeavours to test de Lubac's contention in a particular cultural context - that of Renaissance England. Toward that end, the dissertation studies the use of the word and the concept "supernatural" in six "canonical" works written in England during the period, c. 1590 - c. 1610. The chapters on individual works are preceded by an initial chapter which prepares the ground for subsequent discussion by introducing themes which are treated in the remainder of the dissertation. Relevant aspects are outlined of Thomas Aquinas's foundational understanding of "supernatural," in which natural and supernatural movements were subsumed in a greater unity, and the theological basis for the use of analogical language is discussed. The use of analogical language in the description of created reality is shown to have been supplanted by the onset of an ideal for the unequivocal use of words. The thought of Julia Kristeva is used to explain the association we will find between the use of the word and concept "supernatural" and the appearance of highly-controverted feminine figures. The discussion employs Of Chastity and Power (1989) by Philippa Berry which draws upon Kristeva's thought to treat particular circumstances prevailing in Elizabethan England. A survey is included of uses of the word "supernatural" in Great Britain from 1500 to 1650, which is supplemented by an appendix. Chapters are then devoted to: Christopher Marlowe, Doctor Faustus; Richard Hooker, Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity; William Shakespeare, All's Well That Ends Well and Macbeth; John Donne, the First Anniversary; and John Webster, The White Devil. The result of the detailed discussion is to validate de Lubac's contention that the word "supernatural" played an important role at a time of radical cultural change. In England the period of c. 1590 to c. 1610 saw a general cultural crisis of meaning, value and identity in which important shifts in the meaning of "supernatural" took place. During the period, the old analogical world-view, in which the natural and supernatural operations were understood to be part of a greater unity, underwent a crisis in England, which ended in its demise. A compromise constructed by the Elizabethan settlement was found wanting as a source of meaning and identity. A complex unity gave way to a simple dualism, leaving the way open to the conceptual revolution of the seventeenth century, that would depend on a total separation of natural and supernatural.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available