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"Puritanism no longer employs the thumbscrew and lash; but it still has a most pernicious hold on the minds and feelings of the American people."--The Hypocrisy of Puritanism by Emma Goldman

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The Puritans were English Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries who sought to purify the Church of England of Roman Catholic practices, maintaining that the Church of England had not been fully reformed and should become more Protestant.

By extension, it has become to mean acting or behaving according to the Puritan morals (e.g. propagating modesty), especially with regard to nudity and sex.


Cultural consequences

New England Puritan culture and recreation

Some strong religious views common to Puritans had direct impacts on culture. The opposition to acting as public performance, typefied by William Prynne's Histriomastix, was not a concern with drama as a form. John Milton wrote Samson Agonistes as verse drama, and indeed had at an early stage contemplated writing Paradise Lost in that form. N. H. Keeble writes:

"...when Milton essayed drama, it was with explicit Pauline authority and neither intended for the stage nor in the manner of the contemporary theatre."

But the sexualisation of Restoration theatre was attacked as strongly as ever, by Thomas Gouge, as Keeble points out. Puritans eliminated the use of musical instruments in their religious services, for theological and practical reasons. Church organs were commonly damaged or destroyed in the Civil War period, for example an axe being taken to the organ of Worcester Cathedral in 1642.

Education for the masses was so they could read the Bible for themselves. Educated pastors could read the Bible in its original languages of Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic, as well as church tradition and scholarly works, which were most commonly written in Latin. Most of the leading Puritan divines studied at the University of Oxford or the University of Cambridge before seeking ordination.

Diversions for the educated included discussing the Bible and its practical applications as well as reading the classics such as Cicero, Virgil, and Ovid. They also encouraged the composition of poetry that was of a religious nature, though they eschewed religious-erotic poetry except for the Song of Solomon. This they considered magnificent poetry, without error, regulative for their sexual pleasure, and, especially, as an allegory of Christ and the Church.



  1. (often disapproving): acting or behaving according to the Puritan morals (e.g. propagating modesty), especially with regard to nudity and sex
  2. Of or pertaining to the Puritans, or to their doctrines and practice.
  3. Precise in observance of legal or religious requirements; strict; overscrupulous; rigid; — often used by way of reproach or contempt.


Mrs. Barrymore is of interest to me. She is a heavy, solid person, very limited, intensely respectable, and inclined to be puritanical. You could hardly conceive a less emotional subject. Yet I have told you how, on the first night here, I heard her sobbing bitterly, and since then I have more than once observed traces of tears upon her face. Some deep sorrow gnaws ever at her heart. Sometimes I wonder if she has a guilty memory which haunts her, and sometimes I suspect Barrymore of being a domestic tyrant. I have always felt that there was something singular and questionable in this man's character, but the adventure of last night brings all my suspicions to a head.
— A. Conan Doyle in The Hound of the Baskervilles

See also

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