"Play, utopia or anguish"?: Accounting for the Persistence of the Discourse against Slander from the Middle Ages to the Early Modern Period
Abstract

From the Middle Ages to the early modern period, a great number of treatises condemning abuses of the tongue were published in England. Slander in particular was harshly criticized, as it was deemed a formidable threat to the order of society. So far, scholarship on slander and the evils of the tongue has emphasized the transformation of the discourse against detraction, arguing that it was progressively secularized and feminized. This essay aims at reassessing these conclusions and showing on the contrary the continuity of the discourse against slander over the centuries, even as defamation as a criminal offence was undergoing considerable changes in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English law and courts. Thus, the essay addresses the discrepancy between the discourse on slander and the general context of defamation sued at court in early modern England. What eventually emerges is the hermeneutic and historical relevance of continuity in early modern studies against the desire to look for signs of modernity.


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