Added: October 1, 2016 – Last updated: October 1, 2016


Author: Janis Jane Darvill Mills

Title: Early Modern Legal Poetics and Morality 1560-1625

Subtitle: -

Thesis: Ph.D. Thesis, University of Sussex

Year: 2011

Advisor: Margaret Healy

Pages: 254pp.

Language: English

Keywords: Modern History: 16th Century | European History: English History | Representations: Literary Texts / George Peele, William Shakespeare


Link: Sussex Research Online: Digital Repository of the University of Sussex (Free Access)




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.« (Source: )


  Notes on the text and abbreviations
  Introduction: Early Modern Legal Poetics and Morality 1560-1625 (p. 1)
    Literature, Law, and Cultural History (p. 5)
    Contemporary Questions of Literature and Law (p. 7)
    Literature in Law: Legal Fiction and Literary Culture (p. 14)
    Historical Context and Critical Responses (p. 21)
    Method (p. 29)
    Structure (p. 32)
  Chapter 1: 'Legal Fiction': the affinity between rape myths and the early modern socio legal constructs of rape (p. 39)
    Women and the Law (p. 39)
    The Laws on Rape (p. 43)
    Legal Fiction: good/bad fiction and interpretation (p. 52)
    Mythopoeic Narratives of Rape (p. 54)
    Law and Poetics (p. 62)
    The Lawes Resolutions of Women's Rights (p. 65)
    The Case of Elizabeth Venor (p. 73)
    Early Modern Literary Responses to the Issues of Consent: Shakespeare's The Rape of Lucrece and Peele's Tale of Troy (p. 75)
    The Abduction of Helen (p. 75)
    The Rape of the Sabine Women (p. 79)
    The Ravishment of Lucrece (p. 82)
  Chapter 2: Performing the Law: literature and learning at the early modern Inns of Court (p. 90)
    Literary Fiction, Criminal Prosecution, and Dramatic Form in Criminal Trials (p. 90)
    The Historical Context: Concepts of The Common Law (p. 95)
    The Development of the Legal Establishment: The Early Moderns Inns of Court In Context (p. 99)
    Performing the Law (p. 115)
  Chapter 3: The Legal Poetics of Rule: Morality, Union, and the Politics of Marriage at the Court of King James 1604-1613 (p. 137)
    The Politics of Peace (p. 143)
    Royal Representation and Legal Poetics (p. 148)
    Court Satire 1604-1616 (p. 150)
    The Uneasy Peace 1604-1607 (p. 157)
    The Issues of Union and the Parliament of 1606-7 (p. 162)
    Anglo-Scottish marriage 1607-1613 (p. 169)
  Chapter 4: Prismatic Truth: Lies and Legality in the Case of the Earl of Somerset (p. 186)
    Textual Remains: The Somersets and the Death of Sir Thomas Overbury (p. 197)
    Personal Politics: Chapman's The Tragedy of Chabot Admirall of France (p. 206)
  Conclusion (p. 230)
  Bibliography (p. 237)
    Primary sources (p. 237)
    Secondary sources (p. 243)
    World Wide Web (p. 254)

Wikipedia: History of Europe: History of England | Literature: English literature / Elizabethan literature | 16th-century English writers: George Peele, William Shakespeare / The Rape of Lucrece