Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
In the twenty-first century, as in the sixteenth, a blindfolded woman holding a sword and scales personifies justice; her blindfold conveys impartiality, her scales evenhandedness, and her sword the authority to compel obedience. In pre-democratic early modern England, Justice’s iconography was often used to legitimate the pain that the state imposed on those who broke the common peace. Simultaneously, the creative and cultural narratives within which the penal code was embedded often complicated and contradicted the state’s legally violent precepts. The relationship between legal violence and justice is at the center of this project: Must the law be violent to control violence? Does the law’s violence promote justice or disrupt it? How do the formal mechanisms of law and social control operate within the complex world of art, sermons, and literature? This project maps the late Elizabethan and early Stuart engagement with those questions. I examine a continuum of responses to legal violence embedded in the judicial institutions of Parliament, the Star Chamber, and the Queen’s Bench as well as in poetry, plays, sermons, broadsides, iconography, utopian narratives, paintings, and engravings. Often drawing on the metaphoric force of Justice’s symbols, the early modern response to legal violence was not purely semantic but strongly aesthetic, defending, mediating, reflecting, and refracting the state’s formal mechanisms of law. Reading case law along with works by Thomas More, Elizabeth I, Edmund Spenser, William Shakespeare, Edward Coke, John Donne, George Herbert, Thomas Hobbes, John Milton, and Margaret Cavendish, I trace law as a cultural practice, expressed and understood aesthetically through both codified and creative means.
Higinbotham, Sarah, "The Violence of the Law: Aesthetics of Justice in Early Modern England." Dissertation, Georgia State University, 2013.
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