Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Puritans & Televangelists

In "Twelfth Night: The Shakespeare Club," the student who plays Malvolio has her own way to modernize the part. Rather than playing him as the Puritan the script describes, she's playing him as a televangelist. Her line:

(haughtily) Puritans are totally bogus. They’ll make people think of Salem witch trials and grody stuff like that. I’m playing Malvolio as a televangelist.

The Salem witch trials are fairly well-known, particularly because of Arthur Miller's The Crucible. They are a part of our modern culture and Krista is correct that people tend to associate Puritans with witch trials.

Historical Puritans

However, the Puritans were not simply superstitious folk who were settling America during its early history. They formed in England as a theological splinter of the Church of England--believing that the reformations that separated the Church of England from the Catholic Church did not go far enough. They were active during the reign of Elizabeth I--Shakespeare's time--and were very anti-Catholic.

The term "Puritan" was first applied as an insult--and Shakespeare continues to adopt that policy, with people using Puritan as a way to insult Malvolio. There are rumors that Shakespeare or his father might have been a hidden Catholic--to be an open one invited a sentence of death or exile. If so, that would explain one reason Shakespeare consistently ridiculed Puritans. Another reason is that Puritans believed that the theater was evil and frequently campaigned that the London theaters be closed down--thus taking away Shakespeare's livelihood.

Malvolio as a Televangelist?

Does Krista's comparison of Malvolio and Puritans to the televangelists of the 80s hold true? It's certainly an interpretation that could be defended. Puritans shared some things in common with televangelists of that period: Both believed that Christians should live by the standards of the Bible and should read the Bible with great devotion and frequency. They both had elements of anti-Catholicism, with some televangelists going so far as to claim that Catholics aren't Christians or that they are a cult.

Just as televangelists called on people to live a holy life that excluded drinking, dancing, gambling,movies, and other pleasurable vices; Puritans were known for preaching the same. Both promoted conservative lifestyles and harangued others to do the same.

While many televangelists were devoted ministers who were simply adapting to new mediums, the 80s were filled with the scandals of those who used their religion for their own personal gain. The video below shows some of the televangelist scandals that rocked the 1980s.

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