Profile: Tom Rutter

Dr Tom Rutter’s reformation expertise can be summed up as “Hamlet, Faustus, Wittenberg, purgatory.” The 500 Reformations team asked Tom some questions about how this knowledge connects with his research.

Tell us about your Reformation research:

My main research interest is in English Renaissance drama. In general terms, this art form was shaped by the Reformation. It was (ostensibly) secular, reflecting the reluctance of the Elizabethan regime to countenance plays that dealt overtly with religious controversy. On the other hand, we can see plays gesturing obliquely towards areas of sectarian debate: controversies over topics such as purgatory, salvation, and the Eucharist often lurk not very far beneath the surface.

In my book on Christopher Marlowe, discussion of the Reformation was unavoidable. For one thing, Marlowe seems to have had some sort of covert involvement in the period’s religious wars, either travelling, or putting it about that he was planning to travel, to the Jesuit college in Rheims, thereby doing “Her Majesty good service” (as the Privy Council put it). For another, his work repeatedly returns to questions of salvation and divine will, and to Lutheran and Calvinist responses to these questions. He also dramatises sectarian violence in The Massacre at Paris, which depicts the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre and the French Wars of Religion.

In a more recent article, “Hamlet, Pirates, and Purgatory“, I’ve linked the pirate episode in Hamlet with a discussion of Purgatory by the Swiss theologian Heinrich Bullinger.

What question, or questions, are you aiming to answer in your 500 Reformations talk?

I’ll be asking “What did the Reformation ever do for Renaissance Drama?” Why does Wittenberg figure in both Hamlet and Doctor Faustus? How did Renaissance drama engage with controversies over salvation, Purgatory, etc.?

Is this your main research area?

Partly. It’s difficult to write about Renaissance drama without engaging with the period’s religious debates. At times I’ve needed to or wanted to write about those debates more directly.


Find out more:

Read about Tom’s research interests (University of Sheffield research profile)

Read Tom on Hamlet (Renaissance and Reformation website)


Want to hear Tom speak?

Those in Sheffield and the surrounding area are encouraged to invite Tom as part of the 500 Reformations scheme. Information about hosting. 


Photograph courtesy of the School of English.

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