John Bridges, Martin Marprelate, and the Rhetoric of Satire



This essay argues that John Bridges's massive Defence of the Government Established in the Church of Englande for Ecclesiasticall Matters (1587) was not an insufferably pedantic justification of the English Church and thus an “easy target” for Martin Marprelate's satire but instead posed a serious threat to the legitimacy of the presbyterian campaign. Bridges was a playful and at times masterful prose stylist: he patiently, logically, and wryly deconstructed the presbyterian arguments for ecclesiastical reform, and in the process he undermined the presbyterians’ claims to scriptural authority. Bridges was thus not merely the “occasion” of the Martin Marprelate controversy but its catalyst. Martin responded more directly to Bridges than has yet been recognized: many of his colloquialisms, asides, and marginal notes were modeled on Bridges's own, and in certain respects Martin's satire was an exaggeration and refutation of Bridges's more subtle mockery. Finally, this essay argues that the relationship between Bridges's Defence and Martin Marprelate's explosively satirical pamphlets provides an instructive test-case for the recuperation of the rhetorical aspects of English Renaissance satire. [E. D. V.]