1. Anyone familiar with the Elizabethan and Jacobean period will be aware of the protracted debate engendered by Puritan opposition to the stage. NOTE 1 This produced a great deal of apologetic literature, of which the two best known are doubtless Sir Philip Sidney’s A Defence of Poesie and Thomas Heywood’s 1612 An Apology for Actors. Another well-known episode in this running battle was the controversy that erupted at Oxford in 1592 when the playwright William Gager appended an afterpiece called Momus to his expanded version of Seneca’s Phaedra, performed during a royal visit. In this, an unpleasant captious critic of the theater bursts on the stage and makes a series of accusations against the legitimacy of dramatic performances, which are then refuted. The President of Corpus Christi College, Dr. John Rainolds, an extreme and extremely contentious Low Churchman, chose to view this as a personal attack and responded with a long treatise, Th’ Overthrow of Stage Players, and Gager responded with an equally lengthy letter to Rainolds.
2. The Gager-Rainolds controversy has often been studied, NOTE 2 but the role played in it by the great Oxford Aristotelian John Case has rarely been appreciated. For both the objections raised by Gager’s Momus and the arguments used to refute him were taken from Case’s 1588 Sphaera Civitatis (V.viii.10-11, cf. also VI.viii.9). This work is ostensibly a commentary on Aristotle’s Politics, but as I have shown in the Introduction to the edition in The Philological Museum, it is also an apologia for the political theory of Elizabeth’s government, written at the behest of Lord Burghley, and also a kind of blueprint for an Anglican version of God’s kingdom on earth (for this vision, see also the Introduction to Case’s 1585 Speculum Moralium Quaestionum). Case was probably the closest available approximation to a High Anglican intellectual, who used his series of Aristotelian commentaries to promulgate a highly idiosyncratic philosophy blended from Aristotelianism, Christian mysticism, and political and religious loyalism. As such, he was always prepared to do battle with Puritan challenges to orthodox established practices.
3. Drama was not the only point of Puritan attack on orthodox values and practices, and so Case’s defense of drama in Sphaera Civitatis is scarcely the only occasion when he engaged in polemics for this purpose. His 1596 Apologia Academiarum, NOTE 3 for example, begins with an introductory letter To the Candid and Earnest Reader, in which he writes:
Irruit in nos palam Hacatus monstrum illud, qui saepe horribilem hanc vocem eboavit, artes tollantur, tollantur academiae, tollantur ecclesiae, tollantur fides, religio, Christus. Sed Antichristum istius sectae lex sancta, crux iusta sustulit. Huic successerunt alii eodem spiritu, sed omnia insidiose dissimulantes zelo, Barroistas intelligo, qui nigras volantes satyras sparserunt in quibus idipsum loquuntur quod illi: quorsum artes? quorsum ista gentium et philosophorum idola? quorsum curiosa inventa hominum? Non Deum, non fidem, non religionem, sed vanissam idaeam, fraudem, superstitionem docent. Tollantur ergo academiae in quibus sophistica haec monstra phantasiae vivunt.
[“That monster Hacket has rushed against us in the open, who often bellowed this horrible slogan: away with the Arts, away with the Universities, away with the Church, away with faith, religion, and Christ. But sacred law and the just gallows have done away with the Antichrist of that sect. Others of the same kidney have supplanted that fellow, but are stealthily dissimulating all with a show of zeal, I mean the Barrowists, who have broadcast their dark satires, in which they say the very same thing as did those: Why the arts? Why these idols of nations and philosophers? Why men’s inquisitive discoveries? They are not teaching God, not faith, not faith, but most vain sham, fraud, and superstition. so away with the Universities, in which live these sophistic monsters of imagination.”]
Case means William Hacket, an illiterate and deranged Northamptonshire maltster, who, believing he was personally illuminated by the Almighty, started preaching, acquired a following, and eventually tried to represent himself as Christ. He was hanged in 1591 (one can read about him here, and also in Camden’s account of the year 1590). Likewise, Henry Barrow, a former Fellow-Commoner of Clare Hall, Cambridge, was an advocate of Robert Browne’s radical Separatism, arguing that there should be no distinction between clergy and laity: every local congregation was sovereign and autonomous, and should elect its own pastor, and the liberty of prophesying was secured to each individual (one can read about him here and here). He too was hanged, in 1593. So the source of the danger perceived by Case consisted of extremist sectarian Protestants who discovered authority in personal inner grace and illumination rather than in ecclesiastical authority, and who therefore declined to submit to the authority of the Church of England. The specific common denominator linking Hacket and Barrow was a shared belief that inner illumination per se qualified a man to preach the Gospel. As the Anglicans saw it, a minister was qualified for ordination because of his learning and eloquence, and so he should be, if at all possible, university-trained. Such radical thinking therefore endangered the monopoly on producing ordained clergymen enjoyed by Cambridge and Oxford, which Case obviously regarded as a threat against the educational establishment.
4. The present work, Apologia Musices tam Vocalis Quam Instrumentalis et Mixtae, is written in much the same vein. At the time he wrote, Sir Philip Sidney’s memory was still honored at Oxford. The Apologia Musices contains one passage (vii.10) in which Case seems to be deliberately echoing Sidney’s argument that poetry, and most specifically drama, is morally improving, and it is not unlikely that his intention was, in his own academic and philosophical way, to frame a parallel argument in support of music. Although presented as an apology for music in general, with a certain amount said about music in the civic sphere and in the home, the amount of attention devoted to the use of music in the church is significant and reveals Case’s real intention in writing it. In the course of this work he argues, not only that the role of music in church services is legitimate, but that complex contrapuntal music (musica figuralis, “pricksong”) and instrumental music, above all the organ, have a lawful and legitimate role to play in church services: this against the Puritans (or, as Case styles them, Stoics) who would banish music from the church or at least impose severe restrictions on its use and would consign the organ “to the rubbish-tip or the bonfire.” Case makes his argument by pointing out that music originally derives from God and Nature, that its use is legitimized by Scripture, the practice of the biblical Jews and the early Church, the views of the Fathers and of modern Reformers. Such essentially defensive arguments are buttressed by more positive ones, to the effect that music has a unique ability to act directly on the mind, so that, if played and heard aright, it has the power to elevate the listener’s mind to higher things. As such, while music is beneficial for everybody, it especially so for the contemplative, and it has a highly valuable contribution to make to Christian worship. In framing these arguments, Case is in effect defending the integrity of Anglican ritual, and of course any attack on the Church of England for its “bells and smells” was fraught with both religious and political ramifications. Just like the kind of religion advocated by Hacket and Barrow, it was represented a significant assault on The System.
5. In 1586 Joseph Barnes, printer to the University of Oxford, issued an anonymous vernacular tract, The Praise of Musicke. This is also presented in The Philological Museum, together with arguments that it too is written by Case.
For Further Reading
Grantley McDonald, “Spirit and Ecclesiastical Politics in Elizabethan England: John Case and his Defense of Music,” in Steffen Schneider (ed. ). Epifanien—Frühe Neuzeit interdisziplinär (Göttingen. 2015) pp. 477 - 98, (available on the academia.edu website).
NOTE 1 For an overview of this debate cf. Elbert N. S. Thompson, The Controversy between the Puritans and the Stage (New York, 1903).
NOTE 2 See here for a full discussion of the controversy.
NOTE 3 Apologia Academiarum is preserved by MS. Oxford Corpus Christi 321. It has been discussed by Charles B. Schmitt, John Case and Aristotelianism in Renaissance England (Kingston - Montreal, 1983) Appendix IV and J. W. Binns, “The Case for Queen and Country,” Times Higher Educational Supplement for 17.2.89, p. 17.