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Journal > Volumes > 34 (2003) / 1 (Spring)
The Book of Sir Thomas More and Laughter of the Heart
Susannah Brietz Monta
Louisiana State University

Sixteenth-century Protestant and Catholic martyrologists use joyfulness, wit, and gallows humor to reveal what is in a martyr's conscience, what motivates martyrs to endure suffering. Despite prominently displaying More s famous sense of humor, how ever, the Elizabethan play called The Book of Sir Thomas More maintains a steadfast silence about the reasons More suffered execution. Failing to link More s famous final jests to a declaration of his conscience, the play instead uses joyfulness to hide Mores beliefs and thus to conceal the religiously divisive reasons for his death. Even as their protagonist refuses to confess the reasons for his joy, the playwrights strive to leave martyrdom's dramatic power intact. They succeed because they explore the connections between martyrdom and theatrical performance itself. In using the convention of joyfulness to hide, rather than reveal, a martyr's conscience, the playwrights demonstrate that in a climate of religious controversy martyrdom may yield an estrangement of surface from reality akin to that which Renaissance theatrical practices invited

Pages: 107 - 121