Performing the Scriptures: Biblical Drama after the Reformation

Sarah Carpenter

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


From the late 1530s, when the translation of the scriptures into English was authorised, there rapidly developed a new body of lay bible-readers with new practices of reading and interpretation of the Bible. While the traditional biblical drama of the late middle ages was gradually suppressed or abandoned, a new generation of plays on scriptural subjects emerged, written by and addressed to these new readers. This paper explores the ways in which mid-sixteenth century playwrights responded to the lively culture of bible-reading in the early years of the Reformation. Increased focus on the literal, social and ethical implications of biblical stories guided playwrights towards a greatly expanded body of powerful narratives, which raised challenging human issues, allowing strong theatrical interpretation in relation to contemporary concerns. But the new theatrical strategies do not always sit quite comfortably with the special status accorded by Protestantism to the Bible as the word of God. These Reformation plays begin to suggest crucial tensions between drama and doctrine, inadvertently reinforcing the gradually increasing Protestant unease with the stage as a forum in which to address the Bible.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationStaging Scripture
Subtitle of host publicationBiblical Drama, 1350-1600
EditorsPeter Happe, Wim Husken
Number of pages30
VolumeLudus 14
ISBN (Electronic)9789004313958
ISBN (Print)9789004313941
Publication statusPublished - May 2016

Publication series



  • theatre and the Bible
  • biblical interludes
  • Reformation
  • lay bible-reading
  • Protestant theatre
  • mid-sixteenth century plays


Dive into the research topics of 'Performing the Scriptures: Biblical Drama after the Reformation'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this