University of Sussex
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Early modern legal poetics and morality 1560-1625

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posted on 2023-06-07, 15:55 authored by Janis Jane Darvill Mills
This thesis examines the reciprocity of literary and legal cultures, and seeks to enhance understanding of cultural and socio-legal constructions of morality in early modern England. Identifying the tensions in an institutional legality in which both secular pragmatism and moral idealism act as formulating principals, it interrogates the sense of disjuncture that arises between imaginative concepts of moral justice and their translation into the formal structures of law. Chapter 1 investigates representations of rape in light of the legislative changes of the 1570s, and addresses the question of how literature shapes the legal imaginary of immorality. Literary models, notably Shakespeare’s The Rape Of Lucrece (1594), and George Peele’s Tale of Troy (1589), are examined together with the texts of Edward Coke and Thomas Edgar to argue that lawyers’ mythopoeic interpretative strategies produce a form of legal fiction in relation to sexual crime. These strategies are contextualised in Chapter 2 in relation to the education and literary-legal culture at the Inns of Court, and the thesis progresses to an examination of the inns’ literary and dramatic output – notably that of Thomas Norton and Thomas Sackville’s Gorbuduc, and Arthur Broke’s contemporaneous revels’ masque, Desire and Lady Bewty (1561-2) – to establish how the legal fraternity wielded significant authority over Tudor sexual politics, moral signification, and interpretative practices. Chapters 3 and 4 explore legal and ethical challenges heralded by the Jacobean accession, particularly those posed by the Somerset scandal. Analysis of histories, letters, and court satire, together with Thomas Campion’s The Lord Hay’s Masque (1607), and George Chapman’s Andromeda Liberata (1614) and The Tragedy of Chabot (1639), illuminates the period’s textual negotiations of legal, political, and personal ethics, and offers a revealing picture of the moral paradoxes produced by the opacity of the parameters between the personal and political lives of the ruling elite.


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