Hope Professor Publishes
Book on Stage Devils

Posted December 11, 2000

HOLLAND -- "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 mid-17th century.

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 contemporary writers.


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