Sunday, 22 February 2009


Look at this contemporary woodcut:

There goes Cramner, in a puff (in a series of roils) of smoke. Doesn't 'Frier John' look like an ugly customer, rushing in from stage left with his pudgy blob-disfigured head? But those aristocratic men in the front row of the seated audience ... surely they can't be baddies? And doesn't that scroll, unrolling from the martyr's mouth ('Lord receiue my fpirit') look lovely? The roils of smoke are drawn to resemble it, I'd say, as if Cramner is being martyred not by fire and smoke but by paper and the word. And the folds of cloth on the three seated gentlemen is part of the same visual logic (look at the sword hilt of the one nearest us: it looketh as if it be wreathed around by the sacred papersmoke).

Papersmoke might be a way of saying; 'fire cannot hurt the true servant of God; he is wrapped in curling paper, like a precious object, on his way to heaven.' But it might also be a way of saying: paper? Words? Even holy paper and words? It is as smoke. Everything, including the grace of God, is a transient thing, and burns.


Rich Puchalsky said...

I think that you're missing the more obvious reason for the papersmoke, which is that the paper stands for all those recantations that he made in the days before he was burnt. In his last speech, when he realized that he was going to be burnt no matter what, he denounced all the recantations he'd written and said that that was why his right hand should be burnt first. So the paper is holy paper in the sense that it is being gloriously transformed by flame; his Earthly sins, due to such emotions as fear for his life, are being consumed before he is.

Adam Roberts Project said...

That hadn't occurred to me, Rich, although it makes a lot of sense.