Idolatry, fetishism, and the drama of John Lyly

Higgins, Martin (2021). Idolatry, fetishism, and the drama of John Lyly. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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Idolatry is a consistent preoccupation across John Lyly’s theatrical work. Beginning with an acknowledgement that idolatry had a broad meaning in the early modern period, this thesis highlights those themes in Lyly’s drama relevant to idolatry and their significance to his wider narratives. I show that accusations of idolatry typically involve the claim that an idolater has mistaken one item in a conceptual binary for its opposite; I describe these conceptual pairings as iconoclastic binaries. I demonstrate that Lyly’s plays mobilise and deconstruct these binaries, exposing their normative and contradictory nature. I consider a variety of such pairings, including man/god, true/false, nature/convention, and person/thing. Moreover, I demonstrate the intellectual lineage between the idol and the fetish, showing that accusations of fetishism rely upon the same conceptual binaries employed by Judeo-Christian iconoclasts. As such, Lyly’s plays constitute excellent critiques of the binaries historically associated with both idolatry and fetishism. I foreground the Marxist conception of the fetish, precisely because recent materialist scholarship has become sensitive to the normative, exclusionary, and untenable nature of traditional Marxism. In short, my original contribution to knowledge is twofold: I provide a new, illuminating perspective upon Lyly’s themes, and I show how Lyly’s work can be used to explore and illustrate currents within contemporary ideological thought.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of English, Drama and Creative Studies, The Shakespeare Institute
Funders: Arts and Humanities Research Council
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature


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