‘A Game at Chess’
From his earliest published poem to his last play, Middleton s work reflects his militant Protestantism, frequently expressed in terms of an antipathy towards Catholics in general and Spain and Jesuits in particular. In this it follows in the tradition of chauvinistic works such as John Foxe’s Acts and Monuments of the Christian Reformation (popularly known as The Book of Martyrs) and the Book of Homilies, a collection of sermons on topics such as ‘Order’ and ‘Obedience’ written by Elizabethan bishops to be read in churches. These and other Protestant writings stressed the political dangers of Catholicism, portraying England as an Elect Nation engaged in battle with a Catholic church identified as a whore and headed by a Pope identified as the Antichrist. Catholicism’s complex ritual and ceremony was savagely attacked and parodied, especially what was seen as its worship of idols and images ‘all for eye, and to snare the heart of a carnal’ man, bewitching it with so great glistening of the painted harlot’ (quoted in Dures, 1983: 82). Catholicism, it was claimed, was not merely a misguided form of Christianity, but had debased and perverted Christ’s teaching in order to justify its followers’ pursuit of sensual pleasure. In the words of the Puritan writer William Perkins: ‘Of all religions, to the carnal man none is so pleasant as popery is.’1
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