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Beyond MelancholySadness and Selfhood in Renaissance England$
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Erin Sullivan

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780198739654

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: April 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198739654.001.0001

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Narrative Authority and the Drama of Doubleness

(p.163) 5 Despair
Beyond Melancholy

Erin Sullivan

Oxford University Press

This chapter examines what happened when godly sorrow went wrong, revealing not a purified member of the elect but rather a member of the desperate reprobate. It begins by exploring discussions of ‘wicked’ and ‘holy’ despair in Protestant discussions of predestination, and then looks at how this divide worked within Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, Francis Spira’s tale of apostasy, and William Perkins’s ‘Table’ of salvation. Although previous work in the field has seen the double vision of despair as a supremely destructive process, the chapter highlights how it also enabled an unspoken emphasis on human agency through emotive improvisation. In plays such as Christopher Marlowe’s Dr Faustus and Nathaniel Woodes’s The Conflict of Conscience, as well as spiritual testimonies by figures such as Robert Greene, writers created a material space in which they could enact their stories of desperation and stake a claim about the kind of selfhood it produced.

Keywords:   despair, Reformed Protestantism, predestination, history of religion, Edmund Spenser, Francis Spira, William Perkins, Christopher Marlowe, Nathaniel Woodes, Robert Greene

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