Religion and Politics in William Lawrence’s News from Geneva, or The Lewd Levite (1662)

Prof. Adrian Streete


The manuscript (Add. MS. 88928) held in the British Library is a notebook in folio made by William Lawrence (1636-1697). It contains letters, translations, heraldic and numismatic material, and some poetry. Some of Lawrence’s letters have been published and are known to historians. Lawrence is also familiar to horticultural historians for the formal gardens that he laid out at his ancestral home of Shurdington in Gloucester. Virtually unknown by scholars, however, is the final item in the MS, a play called News from Geneva, or The Lewd Levite. There is no record of this play having been performed, but the text throws fascinating light on the connections between religion, politics, and drama in the immediate aftermath of the Restoration. The main plot is a conventional romantic comedy, but the sub-plot is more interesting, focusing on the lewd Levite of the title, the nonconformist preacher Levi. This talk examines some of the source material that Lawrence draws on, considers his use of anti-Puritan satire, and the play’s relationship to the letters. Written at a time of religious persecution against nonconformists and dissenters, the play argues for a moderate, comprehensive attitude towards such religious groupings.

Adrian Streete is Professor of Early Modern English Literature and Religion at the University of Glasgow. He is author of Apocalypse and Anti-Catholicism in Seventeenth-Century English Drama (Cambridge University Press, 2017), Protestantism and Drama in Early Modern England (Cambridge University Press, 2009), editor of Early Modern Drama and the Bible: Contexts and Readings, 1570-1625 (Palgrave, 2012), and co-editor of three other books. He has published widely in essay collections and journals, and is currently a Leverhulme Research Fellow, writing a book on radical religion, laughter, and satire in English Literary culture, c. 1520-1720.        

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