Treason by Words: Literature, Law, and Rebellion in Shakespeare's England

Treason by Words: Literature, Law, and Rebellion in Shakespeare's England

by Rebecca Lemon

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Under the Tudor monarchy, English law expanded to include the category of "treason by words." Rebecca Lemon investigates this remarkable phrase both as a legal charge and as a cultural event. English citizens, she shows, expressed competing notions of treason in opposition to the growing absolutism of the monarchy. Lemon explores the complex participation of texts by John Donne, Ben Jonson, and William Shakespeare in the legal and political controversies marking the Earl of Essex's 1601 rebellion and the 1605 Gunpowder Plot.

Lemon suggests that the articulation of diverse ideas about treason within literary and polemical texts produced increasingly fractured conceptions of the crime of treason itself. Further, literary texts, in representing issues familiar from political polemic, helped to foster more free, less ideologically rigid, responses to the crisis of treason. As a result, such works of imagination bolstered an emerging discourse on subjects' rights. Treason by Words offers an original theory of the role of dissent and rebellion during a period of burgeoning sovereign power.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780801462269
Publisher: Cornell University Press
Publication date: 02/23/2011
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 256
File size: 44 MB
Note: This product may take a few minutes to download.
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Rebecca Lemon is Associate Professor of English at the University of Southern California.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments     vii
Sovereignty, Treason Law, and the Political Imagination in Early Modern England     1
The Treason of Hayward's Henry IV     23
Shakespeare's Anatomy of Resistance in Richard II     52
Scaffolds of Treason in Shakespeare's Macbeth     79
Donne's Pseudo-Martyr and Post-Gunpowder Plot Law     107
Treason and Emergency Power in Jonson's Catiline     137
Afterword     161
Notes     165
Works Cited     203
Index     223

What People are Saying About This

Constance Jordan

"Rebecca Lemon's Treason by Words is a ground-breaking book. It shows early modern English theater as the site of passionate political argument when absolutist kings, princes, and generals confront constraints imposed by constitutional and natural law."

John Watkins

"A paradox is central to Rebecca Lemon's original, incisive, and theoretically astute book: although there was endless chatter about treason in early modern England, no successful act of treason, at least in the technically appropriate sense of king-killing, actually took place during the Tudor and Jacobean periods. Treason may have been discussed, planned, prosecuted, and punished, but it was never perpetrated. It was, in a sense that would become central for writers of the period, a matter more of words than actions. In some of the book's most exciting sections, Lemon shows the dangerous legal and political consequences of treason's drift from action to language. This created a very difficult position for Shakespeare, Donne, and Jonson. As Lemon concludes, their efforts to navigate a landscape increasingly dominated by accusations of treason by one party and of tyranny by another mark a crucial stage in the development of the modern notion of conscience."

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