A looking glass for readers: Cheap print and the senses of repentance

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The various repentance pamphlets published around Robert Greene’s early death are notorious as biographical and literary documents, but seldom have been considered as devotional writing. Critical myth has it that Greene turned to writing these pamphlets to exploit the authorial potential of the deathbed, as though dying at thirty-four were a strong career option. Critics also have charged Greene within sincerity for claiming multiple acts of repentance in several pamphlets published over three years, even though period theology counseled that any believer’s struggle to repent would be lifelong.1 Thus, it has been assumed that a lay writer so marked by commercialism could not produce significant records of devotional experience. The work of historians of religion increasingly disproves that assumption, showing that commerce and devotion were inextricably bound together in the print culture of England’s long reformation. Whatever Greene’s pamphlets may have done (or not) for his soul or his purse, they were innovations in the field of cheap devotional writing in the 1590s. More specifically, the pamphlets associated with this sinful layman both reflected and advanced Reformation debate about the best media for addressing and converting sinners-a debate that also reflects on theatre as a complex medium for addressing new audiences. Greene’s pamphlets question the reliability of the senses as means to repentance, much as later debates over theatre will question the senses as means to understanding.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationWriting Robert Greene
Subtitle of host publicationEssays On England's First Notorious Professional Writer
EditorsKirk Melnikoff, Edward Gieskes
Place of PublicationBurlington, VT
PublisherAshgate Publishing Ltd
Number of pages24
ISBN (Electronic)9781315546162
ISBN (Print)9780754657019
StatePublished - 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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