Date of Completion


Embargo Period


Major Advisor

Gregory M. Colon Semenza

Co-Major Advisor

Clare Costley King'oo

Associate Advisor

Jean I. Marsden

Associate Advisor

Not Applicable

Field of Study



Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Campus Access


This project explores how Protestant theology shaped early modern authors who made the surprising and potentially blasphemous claim that God was their co-author. I trace a literary history of divine collaboration from John Bale’s claim that Anne Askew was divinely inspired to John Milton’s publication of Paradise Regained, where he linked human authorship and the Son’s redemption of mankind. Scholars traditionally have employed two models of authorship: a diachronic model emphasizing the author shaped by great literary predecessors; and a synchronic model stressing the collaboration required by theater or publishing practices. I combine the strengths of both models by exploring how authorship could be simultaneously individual and collaborative when guided by discussions of the “Word of God.” The phrase was drawn from the Gospel of John’s discussion of the incarnation, but it also referred to the scriptures, and taken together these meanings reflected the creative and communal work of God and man. The divine “Word” was incarnated in both human flesh and physical books.

Early modern writers produced a vision of collaborative authorship by establishing themselves as imitators of Christ, modeling their texts on biblical antecedents, and claiming divine inspiration. Together, these tactics became a form of “mimetic participation,” drawing on René Girard’s argument that while mimetic behaviors usually produce competition, Christianity requires imitators of Christ to avoid competition in favor of participation and collaboration. Early modern writers used authorship to try to imitate Christ and participate in his redemptive actions. Divine collaboration granted authority to writers who invoked it, but it was more than simply an ethos-building trope: it was a complex way of structuring Christian identity that accommodated an increasingly diverse cultural practice—writing—employed by individuals of different classes, genders, and political and religious affiliations.

This project exposes the extent to which collaboration permeated English writers’ imaginations beyond the contexts of the theater and the publishing industry, the traditional sites where scholars have studied authorial collaboration. Authorship was conceived and developed as a simultaneously collaborative but intensely personal act, even as the metaphors writers used were derived from the material culture that structured the production of books.