Western Literature^2 lesson 20

“Is the language of Foxe still compelling today?”

Foxe’s Martyrs was written in 1563 soon after the reign of Queen Mary I, nicknamed “Bloody Mary” for her merciless persecution and slaughter of tens of thousands of Protestants. She was the daughter of King Henry VIII, himself an egotistical pig and tyrant, ambitious beyond belief, and a live and die Catholic. This was the time of change, the time of Queen Elizabeth I, Protestant and Head of the Church of England. The book was received enthusiastically because its author, John Foxe, filled it with the rhetoric of the last breath of tortured and dying Protestants. Foxe, an educated man and English historian, was also a devout Protestant convert. His main goal in writing Foxe’s Martyrs was to contrast the satanic Catholic Church with the angelic Protestant martyrs. Intended for the upper crust, the book set the standard for the English language of that time and the following 200 years, and still compels readers today.

Foxe’s Martyrs was a book which contained two volumes of roughly 2000 pages combined. Mr. Foxe told tales of the martyrdom of Protestants from the root of Protestantism from before Martin Luther up to his present day. One volume “measured roughly a foot long, two palm spans wide, was too deep to lift with only one hand,” and weighed approximately ten pounds. Many editions were published since the original. Critics questioned the reliability of Foxe’s early stories because witnesses to the events were long dead, and primary documentation was impossible to come by, although Foxe attempted to truthfully document accounts where possible. The author responded to his critics with even more extensive research on the questions raised. Later accounts of martyrs were peppered with eyewitness and backed up by primary source documents. In this way, Foxe inflated the narration and descriptions in his favor, downplaying any fault of the martyrs. He used metaphors, principally calling the Catholic Church “Satan” and Protestantism “The True Faith”, likening it to God in Heaven. He exaggerated the metaphor of Protestant England and the “lighted candle” with his story of Latimer’s and Ridley’s burning at the stake for their involvement in the Lady Jane Grey affair by quoting Latimer as saying, “Be of good comfort, and play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.” Foxe also made good use of Thomas Cranmer’s execution, championing the fact that Thomas Cranmer purposely burned “his unworthy right hand…so that all men might see his hand burned before his body was touched.” to show that his hand had offended, writing contrary to his heart, and he had always held up Protestantism as the one true faith. By these methods and his bold use of rhetoric (which is the undue use of exaggeration or display), Foxe’s tome emphasized England’s nationality under Protestantism. This book was expensive to print, and therefore the general peoples couldn’t possibly afford it. But because it emphasized England’s nationality, Queen Elizabeth I issued an edict to chain it to the pulpits in all the churches and preach from it every possible opportunity. It soon became a national treasure, establishing English language use.

Rhetoric is still used extensively today in many areas of English (for example politics and advertising) to sway the public using emotions over reason and logic. This use of language has become an integral part of all English speaking cultures today. Through Foxe’s masterful use of language, he transformed people’s perception of religion. Because of the book’s popularity largely due to Queen Elizabeth I, Foxe turned rhetoric from something useful only in the law courts into everyday language. Foxe’s Martyrs remains the most widely read book besides the Bible.

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