Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Nicole Guenther Discenza, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Sara M. Deats

Committee Member

Sara Munson Deats, Ph.D.

Committee Member

David Bevington, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Thomas Williams, Ph.D.


early English drama, parody, Lollardy, Catholicism, Antichrist, Mankind, Croxton Play of the Sacrament, John!Bale, Shakespeare, Marlowe


My dissertation explores the parodic Biblical language employed by medieval and early modern staged heretics. The plays' coupling of parody and heresy forges ideological connections between the two, as when they disrupt authorized, orthodox models of the Word, as both the Scriptures and the Host. My Introduction addresses the theological controversies over the relationship between language and meaning that arise from Lollard, Catholic, and Protestant heresies. Chapter two analyzes how, in the Chester cycle, Antichrist's theological and verbal dissents are eerily similar to orthodox models. That framework forces the audience to depend on the context of the heretic's words and deeds, rather than the words and deeds themselves, to interpret meaning. Chapter three examines Mankind's construction of orthodox and parodic registers of language and its mapping of Mankind's fall and ascent through his transition from one register to the other. Chapter four addresses how the Croxton Play of the Sacrament defends the doctrine of the Real Presence by aligning the transformative power of the consecratory words with the transformative power of believers' confessions at conversion, wherein both enact a transubstantiation. Chapter five argues that John Bale's Three Laws relies on the dichotomy of the letter and the spirit to characterize his parodic Catholic vices as legalistic adherents to the Word and his Protestant heroes as spiritually-enlightened believers. Chapter six analyzes how Falstaff's Puritan parody, in the Henry IV plays, locates meaning in the audience rather than the speaker, particularly through dramatic irony, equivocation, and allusions. Lastly, chapter seven examines how, in Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, the spectrum of orthodox and parodic language use collapses into Faustus's idiom, and I contend that Faustus's heresy is ultimately his indecision. My conclusion ultimately finds that the univocity between language and meaning is a specious construction, and, collectively, these texts demonstrate that language may be a marker but not a maker of meaning.