Mortalism, the doctrine that the soul sleeps or dies with the death of the body to be reawakened or resurrected at the Last Judgment, was adopted by Luther but became a significant feature of the continental “radical Reformation” rather than of the Calvinist theology that shaped later-sixteenth-century English Protestantism. It was amid the intellectual turbulence of the mid-seventeenth century that mortalist ideas first became common currency in England, and they were not necessarily held only by religious and political radicals. But they nonetheless had radical potential in terms of the questions they provoked about the meaning of life and the nature of death, and about the divine economy of rewards and punishments. This essay places mortalist thinking in relation to competing historiographical narratives of Reformation and secularization in early modern England, paying particular attention to poetic treatments of the mortal soul in Lucretius, Marlowe, Milton, and Dryden.

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