Monday, January 30, 2012

The Rhetoric of Preaching in Elizabethan England

More from Herr, The Elizabethan Sermon, this time noting some rhetorical expectations of the Elizabethan audience.

In Elizabeth's day the distinction between a sermon and a lecture was not what it is today; if a spoken discourse is didactic and upon dogmatic theology we are likely to term it a sermon and if it is upon scientific or other secular matter we call it a lecture, whereas the Elizabethans termed a theological discourse a lecture or a sermon depending only upon whether it was read from a finished composition or preached from memory with the aid of notes only. This distinction was rigidly preserved in the titles when the sermons and lectures went to press. A further distinctive term was reserved for a theological dissertation which was neither preached nor read before an audience; this was called a treatise. When a man came to preach a sermon, therefore, he endeavored to use only notes and to have those notes as brief as possible. To preach without even the notes was the aspiration. The fullness or brevity of the notes from which the sermon was to be delivered was a matter of choice for the preacher. Very few of those notes have been published, naturally enough, but we may presume that they varied in length as greatly as do men's memories. Bishop Andrewes' notes were full to the point of indicating the nature of every sentence, while Hooker used none at all. (35)

The Elizabethan clergy were allowed more time to present their sermons than most churches grant their clergy today, for while we are content with even a quarter-hour sermon, then both the congregation and the preacher felt that one hour was meet and right for sermon length. Lest any contention arise about the matter, we find that the congregation did not disdain to provide an hour-glass nor the clergy to turn over as they mounted the pulpit steps. (34-5)

Gestures were expected to accompany a good strong sermon. So usual were they, as a matter of fact, that there is very little mention of them in contemporary discussions of sermons, except to note anything so unusual as the lack of them. Hooker, for example, stood in his pulpit motionless, not even moving his eyes, and this idiosyncrasy was considered remarkable enough to appear in every account of the great preacher. Since Elizabethan sermon audiences preferred everything else in its most sensational form, it is not taking too much for granted to suppose that they liked their pulpits well pounded. (35)

No comments: