Date of Award

2001

Level of Access

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

English

Advisor

Paul Bauschatz

Second Committee Member

Ken Norris

Third Committee Member

Benjamin Friedlander

Abstract

In order to understand the relationship between Puritanism, iconoclasm, and texts, it is advantageous to approach Puritanism as a sign system. Thus iconoclasm can be seen as the semiotic overthrow of the old sign system of imagery in Catholicism with the new, text-based sign system of Protestantism. The privileging of text over image via the printed page also suggests various theories concerning print culture (McLuhan, Ong, Johns, etc.) which work in tandem with ideas concerning Puritan plainness (or minimalism, primitivism). The destruction of imagery in the English churches sets the stage for not only the regicide, but the destruction of the natives in the New World, which are then replaced by a text, the Puritan icon. The synthetic nature of this thesis allows the drawing together of several fields of study (material culture, religion, history, semiotics, literature) to try to understand Puritanism as a system with its own inherent unity but with, as well, a destructive element that can be viewed as cleansing on the one hand, but also allows for regicide, civil war, and ultimately genocide. It is "ironic" that the Puritans through iconoclasm replaced the statuary of the churches with the text of the English Bible, that the beheaded Charles I is replaced by the Eikon Basilike, and the Pequods with John Eliot's Indian Bible. It is questionable, however, whether the adopted approach of semiotics is capable of conveying that irony or is itself subject to the same internal prejudices as Puritan textuality. Many primary sources have been referenced along with works by contemporary scholars to try to offer a generalized introduction to the study of Puritanism and textuality, though some familiarity with historical events is presupposed. Due to the paper's synthetic nature, it can offer a variety of ways into the material through each of its sections. Taken as a whole, however, it provides an original analysis into the possible relationships between icon and text in the Puritan collective.

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