Underwater Worlds: Aquatic Visions in Art, Science, and Literature

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‘There shall I look into hell’: Submergence and Sin in the work of Nashe and Dekker Before his vessel was wrecked off the coast of the Azores in 1583, the explorer and soldier Humphrey Gilbert was allegedly heard to shout from the deck of the Squirrel: ‘Courage, my lads! We are as near to heaven, by sea as by land’. Yet, in the work of the writers that this paper will discuss, the waters of the deep are frequently depicted in the early modern imagination as unholy spaces, crossed by mutable paths leading straight to hell. The association of the demonic with the sea is particularly prevalent in devotional works such as Thomas Nashe’s Christ’s Tears Over Jerusalem (1593), in which the author takes on the persona of Christ to tell of how the first world was drowned in water, and how ‘all the sins of the first world now welter, souse, & beat unquietly in the sea’. Nashe depicts the sea as a body of water that is as restless as a guilty conscience and indifferent to human will. These are not the cathartic waters typically associated with the Biblical deluge but their dark, polluted, reflection. In addition, as the prayers composed by the seventeenth-century pamphleteer Thomas Dekker demonstrate, it was deemed important that seafaring men could find the right words to confess their sins and pray for Christ’s mercy. As this paper will argue, the constant threat of submersion suspends the mariner in a condition of premature death, in which compromised rites of baptism and exorcism shape anticipated encounters with saltwater and its depths.
Period16 Sep 2015
Event typeConference
LocationOxford, United KingdomShow on map