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
Subjects: Language & Literature
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