Donna B. Hamilton. Anthony Munday and the Catholics, 1560-1633. Aldershot, England ; Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2005. xxvi+268pp. ISBN: 0 7546 0607 4.

Adam H. Kitzes
University of North Dakota

Kitzes, Adam H. "Review of Donna B. Hamilton, Anthony Munday and the Catholics, 1560-1633." Early Modern Literary Studies 12.3 (January, 2007) 15.1-7<URL:>.

  1. Anthony Munday's legacy among twentieth-century readers has not exactly been favorable. During his own lifetime, he had been one of England's most prolific fiction writers, though this productivity seems to have earned him the dubious distinction of "hack". His political reputation has not fared much better; contemporary responses to him often fall somewhere between scorn and outright hostility. The focus falls on what Celeste Turner describes as his "rabidly anti-Catholic" endeavours, from his return from Rome in 1579, to his ferocious attacks on English Catholics, including individuals with whom he had been personally acquainted. Not exactly flattering, the Dictionary of National Biography notes that Munday benefited personally from his testimonies against recusants. In far less understated terms, Charles Nicholl describes him as a "government thug and gallows-hunter". For one reason or another, then, Munday simply wasn't very good, neither as a writer nor as a person; and while such judgments need not warrant the type of neglect he has suffered, it seems to have been enough in this instance.

  2. This context alone makes Donna Hamilton's Anthony Munday and the Catholics an exciting, if at times provocative new contribution to our understanding of this overlooked figure. In devoting a book-length study to Munday's entire literary output and not simply selected texts, Hamilton takes part in redressing the relative neglect that Munday's texts have been subjected to. In doing so, she further aims to reconsider the critical framework for understanding late Elizabethan writers. As she suggests in her introduction, Munday owes his current status less to his actual merits as a writer than to his incongruity with respect to current critical models of poets as Protestant nation-builders: "Not a poet on the level of Spenser or Shakespeare, and not a university or Inns of Court man, Munday also operated according to some assumptions that ran counter to those who were keen on a strong Protestant nation" (xv-xvi). More than simply arguing for his merits then, Hamilton undertakes the ambitious project of reassessing what she describes, throughout, as a "Hitherto misunderstood logic" to Munday's career.

  3. That logic, as she describes it, rejects a widely held assumption about Munday's religious convictions, virtually unquestioned since Turner; it hinges instead on the frankly surprising claim that Munday remained a Catholic, even throughout his career as a strongly anti-Jesuit pamphleteer, trial witness against Campion, and occasional pursuivant. Notwithstanding his participation in the crown's pursuits against Catholic opposition in England, and notwithstanding his own attacks against the pope, along with several aspects of Catholic worship, Munday offered no sustained critique of the Catholic doctrine (xvii), and may have retained beliefs consistent with its basic principles. For Hamilton, moreover, Munday's career as a pamphleteer and government agent suggests not opportunism, but rather a premeditated effort to place adherence to the crown before personal religious convictions, along with a concerted effort to address a Catholic readership with instructions for doing the same. To that end, Hamilton describes Munday's writing in terms such as the following:
    The safety and freedom Munday secured for himself by the closing years of the 1580s resulted from his having dissociated from the political Catholicism of William Allen and Robert Persons and having instead staked his claim to an identity the government could sanction. Meanwhile, he had also carved out a discursive space within which access to the public sphere provided him with the means for continuing to iterate Catholic ideology. (66)
    It is a delicate balance, to put it mildly. Familiar terms such as "loyalty," and "Catholic loyalist" predominate throughout Hamilton's reading, as she carefully differentiates between Munday's religious convictions and political aspirations. But just as prominent is the phrase "Janus effect" (16), which she invokes to characterize Munday's appropriation of Stephen Bateman in his early poetic sequence, Zelauto. The term is adapted from Munday himself, but it comes to represent a prevailing tactic in his writing: "Facing in two different directions, towards government officials and towards his fellow Catholics (including Allen and the Jesuit mission), Munday lays out the component parts of his decision to choose loyalty over the piety that might lead to martyrdom" (48). As Hamilton's reading unfolds, the picture that takes shape suggests that Munday's ideological coherence was marked by a complexity that ultimately put his position under continual strain. Confronting an always shifting, and often precarious, political situation for Catholics, Munday achieved more than modest success - and to his credit - by speaking, as it were, from both sides of his face. Alternatively, Munday's text runs the continual risk of meaning the opposite of what it appears to be saying, even to the point that the readability of his texts depends precisely on the radical instability of what he actually writes.

  4. In making a case for Munday's ideological coherence, Hamilton draws on two lines of support. Making reference to historical events that compromised, and eventually sank English Catholics' political aspirations during the 1580s - among them, the Earl of Oxford's "defection" from Catholicism, the arrest and execution of Campion and Parsons, and the collapse of the Elizabeth-Anjou arrangement - she argues that several writers who had been striving for Catholic acceptance found themselves making necessary adjustments under an increasingly persecutory government. (See, for instance, her discussion of Thomas Watson in Chapter Two.) Apparent shifts in Munday's ideological position may reflect strategic changes, though not wholesale revision of his theological beliefs. Meanwhile, Hamilton notes several rhetorical strategies that characterize Munday, approvingly, as a casuist and equivocator: he appropriates overtly Protestant material, published by members of the Leicester circle, and redeploys it for Catholic readership; he publishes material primarily intended for a Catholic audience, but couches it in terms sympathetic to the government; he provides direct information about Jesuit practices, albeit cunningly disguised as anti-Catholic polemics against the same conduct; and he offers enthusiastic public support for the monarchy alongside more hushed admonitions to his Catholic readers to choose conformism over obstinacy. As she puts it, "Thus bracketing the subsets of ventriloquized Catholic polemic, Munday keeps his own loyalist face intact" (42).

  5. Hamilton is both thorough and original in her engagement with Munday's printed materials. As she offers detailed, yet readable accounts of the various stages of his professional career - she devotes equal attention to his pamphlet literature, his romances, his plays, his civic pageants, and his surveys of London - she demonstrates a complex, yet consistent pattern of rhetorical strategies, which in turn suggest a Catholic loyalist strain. The sheer range of her study in itself lends a sense of coherence to Munday, many of whose literary projects have been studied in isolation - his involvement with Sir Thomas More, for instance - but whose literary career as a whole has been evaluated less often. More importantly, in situating Munday's career within the framework of a complex negotiation between conflicting impulses, Hamilton suggests original solutions to potential ideological incoherencies, such as how a writer who engaged in anti-Catholic polemics during the 1580s could come to participate in plays as divergent as Sir Thomas More and Sir John Oldcastle in the years that followed. Thus, while Munday was capable of attacking specific aspects of Catholic political and religious practices alike, in one and the same gesture he employs understated, even tacit instructions for reading these statements which, if followed correctly, hold out for a Catholic population retaining its beliefs and practices, without being overwhelmed by conflict. Behind his attacks on Catholic opposition lies the conviction that one could nevertheless remain a Catholic without posing a threat to national security. And it was primarily by working through the subtle intricacies of his fictional writings - whether they dealt explicitly with religious controversies or not - that careful readers might get a sense how.

  6. A considerable part of Hamilton's argument thus consists not only of reviewing what Munday composed, but of providing elaborate instructions of how he ought to be read; reading Munday depends almost entirely on determining this proper perspective. At times, Hamilton's argument itself ends up on the subtle side. Her discussion of typographical aspects of Munday's 1582 pamphlets, for instance, depends upon a readership capable of recognizing the potential "fluidity of voice" that she discerns. Concerning specific practices that he himself denounces, such as martyrdom or keeping relics, Hamilton seems to rely less on Munday's statements than on a manner of argumentation that remains, at best, tacit. More noticeable is her review of Campion's conduct on the scaffold during the moments before his execution, where Munday provoked the ire of Thomas Alfield. As Hamilton notes, Alfield's enraged response stemmed from a fundamental misunderstanding of Munday's project: "Concluding otherwise," she adds, "requires that we be different, if not better readers than Alfield was" (43). This may be so, though if it is the case, one may legitimately wonder, on just how many occasions the subtleties of Munday's rhetorical strategies were lost on the very readers who may have profited the most from detecting them when the stakes were higher. As this instance reminds us, Hamilton's argument ultimately rests on a speculative claim. Rather than provide definitive evidence of Munday's Catholicism, instead she argues that a number of apparent inconsistencies in Munday's writing seem to vanish when considered from that vantage.

  7. In fact not all difficulties can be explained by such an adjustment. With respect to his participation in Sir Thomas More, for instance, "If there has been a problem understanding how a Protestant Munday could have represented More so positively, that problem does not go away if one considers Munday to be a Catholic" (120). More broadly, Munday's own voice can be so equivocal that, even after heeding it as carefully as Hamilton herself does, "one ought never feel completely confident that one has satisfactorily understood or defined the shifting religious identities held, represented and expressed in this period" (197). The strength of Anthony Munday and the Catholics lies not exclusively in the conclusions it offers for specific texts than in the challenges it raises for contemporary literary scholars to come to terms with the shifting, uneven, and often unstable characteristics of the Protestant Reformation in England. While Hamilton may not provide definitive readings for Munday, she never claims otherwise. But by offering so careful a reading of a writer so often overlooked, Hamilton invites future readers to reconsider the assumptions behind the critical perspectives that may have led to so glaring an oversight in the first place. To that end, Hamilton makes a compelling case simply by having a look, since to do so is to demonstrate compellingly just how much of Munday still remains to be read.


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