Review: Antoinina Bevan Zlatar, Reformation Fictions: Polemical Protestant Dialogues in Elizabethan England, (Oxford: Oxford University Press: 2011).

This book analyzes a range of Elizabethan Protestant dialogues with an eye towards providing a rehabilitative rhetorical and historicist reading of these often misunderstood and neglected texts.  It differs from previous studies of the genre by focusing specifically on a limited corpus, rather than attempting a more broad (and thus vague) collective understanding of varied subgenres.  In particular, Antoinina Bevan Zlatar argues for an increased emphasis to be placed on the strong fictive elements of these dialogues. 

She demonstrates these elements through juxtaposition of her selected texts with older Tudor dialogues as well as Lutheran and Calvinist texts from Germany and Geneva.  In addition, Bevan Zlatar compares these dialogues with contemporary controversies, disputations, sermons, and popular dramatic and literary works.  The purpose of this structure is to demonstrate how these dialogues “function simultaneously as works of art, vehicles of thought, and acts of communication.” (p.7)

To facilitate this demonstration, Bevan Zlatar composes her analysis in seven parts.  The second chapter (and the first after the Introduction) looks backwards to Erasmian dialogue and De utilitate colloquiorum as well as presenting some of the methods and motivations of the dialogic authors: George Gifford, Anthony Gilby, Job Throckmorton, and John Udall, to name just a few.  Chapter III continues the retrospective foundation by considering the Tudor precursors to the Elizabethan dialogues.  Chapter IV considers John Véron, his eight dialogues of the 1560s, and his translations and interpretations of Pierre Viret’s 1552 Disputations chrestiennes.  Chapter V is titled ‘Fear of Popery’ and engages with topical concerns about English Catholic persecutions, recusancy, and conformity.  Chapter VI discusses the evolution of the English Reformation and, in particular, the fracturing of the Reformists as exemplified by the Puritan resistance against the Church of England episcopacy.  Chapter VII considers Gifford’s Countie Diuinitie (1581) and its connection to the anonymous I.B.’s A Dialogue between a vertuous Gentleman and a popish priest (c.1600) and Arthur Dent’s 1600 The Plaine Mans Path-way to Heaven, as well as engaging with contemporary concerns about the rise of ‘atheism’.  Finally, Chapter VIII provides a summative look at the rhetoric of dialogue, didactic disputation, and conversion.

This book’s greatest strength lies in its analysis.  Bevan Zlatar’s choice in identifying a manageable corpus is a wise one, as it allows for an analysis that has the freedom to discuss a variety of topics: historiography, rhetoric, elements of well-digested theology, and literary practices.  In addition, in taking a pan-European perspective (insofar as possible) as well as providing historical precedents, Bevan Zlatar provides a comfortingly well-rounded selection of texts.  This book provides an excellent and meticulous historicist reading of the rhetoric and motivations of these Elizabethan dialogues, and would prove useful and engaging for any student of the literature and language of the English Reformation.

Gavin Schwartz-Leeper, University of Sheffield

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