Authorial Agency and Political Value in The Rehearsal Transpros'd.

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Date: Spring 2021
From: South Atlantic Review(Vol. 86, Issue 1)
Publisher: South Atlantic Modern Language Association
Document Type: Article
Length: 7,944 words

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Andrew Marvell wrote his 1672 prose work The Rehearsal Transpros'd during a time of intense cultural debate regarding the status of religious dissent in relation to the Church of England. For example, in the wake of a series of repressive acts of legislation known as the Clarendon Code in the 1660s, Parliament passed another Conventicle Act in 1670 which forbade religious assemblies of dissenters of five or more people and then passed the anti-Catholic Test Act in 1673 (Smith, Chameleon 229, 262). In the midst of this persecutory legislation, Charles II issued his Declaration of Indulgence in 1672, which suspended punishment against Nonconformists and permitted them to procure licenses that gave them the freedom to worship as they pleased (247). Marvell's adversary, Samuel Parker, as a supporter of repressive statutes like the Conventicle Act, wanted to give absolute power to magistrates to regulate and restrain religious nonconformity and to prohibit liberty of conscience. Marvell, on the other hand, sought to limit the authority of magistrates and championed the principles of religious toleration and the individual's right to liberty of conscience. In The Rehearsal Transpros'd, as Marvell defends religious liberty using the genre of animadversion, he does not offer a point-by-point refutation of Parker's argument, as the genre requires, but instead picks and chooses the portions of Parker's multiple treatises he wants to verbally assail (Von Maltzahn 183). For this purpose, Marvell created a unique style, one that mixed the comic and the serious, the high and the low in an effort to appeal to diverse audiences, for instance the court and the coffee house, and go beyond a merely religious readership (Keeble 249-250). Marvell was extremely successful in this venture and the The Rehearsal Transpros'd became one of the most popular works of religious controversy of its time. Of course, Samuel Parker responded to Marvell's work with a treatise of his own defending himself and attacking Marvell, which in turn caused Marvell to write a follow-up to the first treatise a year later called The Rehearsal Transpros'd: The Second Part. In this work, Marvell continued to defend religious liberty and condemn Parker's absolutism, but he did so in a more traditional animadverting style that included a more measured, systematic argument (Dzelzainas and Patterson 210).

While I acknowledge the importance of the context of religious controversy, and especially the Declaration of Indulgence, for a clear understanding of The Rehearsal Transpros'd, I think that too much emphasis on that context and legislation may partially obscure the uniqueness of Marvell's engagement with Parker's absolutist arguments and style. For the intertextual mode that Marvell adopts, at once mirroring and dismantling the multiple texts of Samuel Parker, challenges traditional concepts of the author that rely on subject-centered ideas of agency. Instead of a theory of authorship grounded in the principles of human exceptionalism, Marvell sees his authorial identity as contingent and provisional, emerging out of a larger field of forces that includes both human and nonhuman realms and materialities. This is a significant reorientation of...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A655503290