The Devil and the Sacred in English Drama, 1350-1642," a book by Dr. John Cox of the Hope College English faculty, has just been published by Cambridge University Press.
Readers for the press recommended the book
enthusiastically. "Cox's thesis will give rise to a good
deal of useful argument in the scholarly community," wrote
Professor Anne Lancashire of the University of Toronto.
Professor Janette Dillon of Lancaster University in England
commented that "Cox's close knowledge of a wide range of
plays before and after the Reformation is impressive, and
his judgment of each individual play is informed by that
breadth of familiarity with the field."
The book's colorful dust jacket, depicting a man
putting on a devil disguise, is taken from a 15th-century
French manuscript illustration. Cox recently received a
post card from an American friend visiting Cambridge. He
said a display of Cox's book occupied an entire window of
the Cambridge University Press book shop.
The book is a history of approximately 80 English
plays, written between 1350 and 1642, that included devils
in the stories they told. Cox argues that these devils were
originally formed by a religious (or "sacred") outlook, and
that that view remained strong in devil plays through the
His view contrasts with the established
interpretation of stage devils. Scholars have maintained
that devils originated as a secular addition to religious
plays and that increasing secularization led to lack of
interest in stage devils in the early 17th century.
Chapters examine the devil and the sacred in
English mystery, morality, and saints' plays, and in plays
of the early Protestant era. The book also discusses devil
plays by Marlowe and Shakespeare. Finally, it looks at
continuity and change in English staging of devils in the
first half of the 17th century.
Cox worked on the book for more than seven years.
He became interested in the subject of stage devils while
participating in a seminar at the Folger Shakespeare
Memorial Library in Washington, D.C., in 1990. In 1993 he
was awarded a summer grant in support of the project by the
National Endowment for the Humanities. He received a major
grant from the Pew Evangelical Scholars Program for a year-
long leave in 1995-96.
Other awards Cox has received in support of his
scholarship include a Mellon Faculty Fellowship at Harvard
University in 1978-79, a research fellowship from the
National Endowment for the Humanities in 1985-86, and
membership in a seminar on "Theory and Practice of Editing"
at the Folger Library in 1997-98.
Cox currently is participating in another Folger
Library seminar, on "Puzzling Evidence: Literatures and
Histories." The eight-week seminar is examining the issue
of evidence as it has functioned in literary studies,
especially studies of the Renaissance. Cox's work in the
seminar questions the editorial practice of adding stage
directions to Shakespeare texts. Cox travels to Washington
one weekend per month to attend the seminar sessions.
In addition, he is currently finishing an edition
of Shakespeare's history play, "Henry VI, Part 3," for the
Third Arden Edition of Shakespeare's Works.
Cox earned his undergraduate degree from Hope
College in 1967 and his graduate degrees from the University
of Chicago. He joined the Hope faculty in 1979 and since
1984 has served as director of the college's
Interdisciplinary Studies program.
In 1996 he was appointed to the newly established
DuMez Endowed Professorship in English. He is author of
"Shakespeare and the Dramaturgy of Power," published in 1989
by Princeton University Press, and coeditor of "A New
History of Early English Drama," published in 1997 by
Columbia University Press, in addition to publishing many
scholarly articles and book reviews on Renaissance drama and