Religious Reformation and the Crisis of Providentialism in Cyril Tourneur’s The Atheist’s Tragedy (1611): A Cultural Materialist Reading

Shahab Entezareghaem


The early modern period in England is characterised by philosophical and moral debates over the meaning and pertinence of Christian beliefs and teachings. One of the most controversial topics in this epoch is God’s providence and its supposed impacts on man’s daily life. In the wake of the Reformation and emerging philosophical schools, particularly in the second half of the sixteenth century, Providentialism was seriously put into question and the meaning and influences of God’s providence were, therefore, investigated. Epicureans and Calvinists were two prominent groups of religious reformists who cast doubt upon the validity and pertinence of Christian Providentialism as it was taught during the medieval period. These intellectual and philosophical debates were reflected in the literary productions of the age in general, and in Elizabethan and Jacobean drama in particular. Cyril Tourneur is one of the early modern English playwrights who inquired into the meaning and relevance of Providentialism in his last play, The Atheist’s Tragedy (1611). Adhering to a cultural materialist mode of criticism, I will show in this paper that Tourneur is a dissident dramatist who separates the realm of God’s divinity from man’s rational capacity in his tragedy and anticipates, hence, the emergence and development of new religious and philosophical visions in the Renaissance.


Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama, Providentialism, Reformation, Epicurean Philosophy, Calvinism, Cultural Materialism

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