My dissertation, “Tales of Resistance: Combating Legal Power from Italian Shores to London Streets,” demonstrates how English authors appropriated Italian texts to oppose increasing monarchic power in the legal system. I argue that Italian materials provided a comparative legal viewpoint for writers to contest the overarching power shift from local to state legal authority in sixteenth century England. By recovering the Italian sources of popular English plays and pamphlets, I establish English authors’ engagement with Italian law, in which legal authority was already invested in court powers removed from local communities. At the same time, I demonstrate how English writers manipulated common stereotypes of Italian court authority, such as the Duke’s mastery of Machiavellian dissemblance in Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure and Webster’s violent display of court corruption in Italian revenge tragedies, to disturb audiences and provoke a wider public to evaluate the role of court power in legal affairs. My project then reveals popular literature’s preoccupation with legal concepts as well as Italian influences on early modern English expectations and understandings of law. I develop this argument through close analysis of literary texts within chapters dedicated to specific features of English common law. My first two chapters consider how English authors, including Robert Greene and Shakespeare, adapted Italian short stories to combat the increasing legal power of the monarch and centralized judges. The second half of my dissertation shifts from examining higher authoritative positions to investigating local law enforcement, with chapters on constables in English popular pamphlets and Webster’s Italianized jury trial in The White Devil. While individual chapters focus on particular aspects of the English legal system, the project collectively showcases a broader view of literature’s place in contested negotiations for power in early modern England.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. April 2016. Major: English. Advisor: John Watkins. 1 computer file (PDF); iv, 194 pages.
Tales of Resistance: Combating Legal Power from Italian Shores to London Streets.
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