The “Blindnesse of the Flesh” in Nathaniel Woodes’ The Conflict of Conscience

Anna Riehl Bertolet

in The Oxford Handbook of Tudor Drama

Published in print July 2012 | ISBN: 9780199566471
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks of Literature

The “Blindnesse of the Flesh” in Nathaniel Woodes’ The Conflict of Conscience

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  • Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)



Nathaniel Woodes' The Conflict of Conscience (1581) is a dramatized account of the conversion of Francesco Spiera, an Italian lawyer who gave in to pressure by the Inquisition to alter his protestant beliefs and died in despair six months later in 1548, convinced in his irrevocable damnation. Historical Spiera's tragic, possibly suicidal, demise intensified the didactic impact of his story, and Woodes, who cast Spiera as Philologus, initially preserved the dark overtones of the convert's surrender to the feelings of irrevocable despair and damnation. However, one of the major revisions that appeared in the second issue of the play is a modified ending where the Nuntius' (messenger's) report of Philologus' suicide by hanging committed out of despair is changed to the ‘joyfull newes’ of Philologus' reconversion and subsequent death by self-starvation. The significance of this revision has been discussed by some critics, but there has been no attempt to explain why Woodes still chooses to subject the newly enlightened and faithful Philologus to essentially self-inflicted death. The answer lies in the play's deeper structures of the extremist body-soul dichotomy where not only the privileging of the body over the soul is explicitly condemned, but also the body is devalued completely because it is always defined only as an inferior counterpart to the soul. The resulting message of the play seems to be not the criticism of particular religious beliefs, but that of Philologus' persistent tendencies toward the extremes and his resultant failure to adopt the proper modes of spiritual and bodily behaviour.

Keywords: religious conversion; Francesco Spiera; Philologus; body; soul

Article.  9107 words. 

Subjects: Literature ; Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)

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