This paper examines changes in how early modern German burghers conceptualized the role of anger and provocation in cases of insult and defamation. Reflecting the wider culture's conflicted assessment of anger, considerable debate existed among urban magistrates as to whether anger could excuse or mitigate a defendant's culpability for defamatory outbursts; some jurists concluded that anger negated the punishable animus of the offense, while others rejected the defense as a threat to public order. Because of the high social value of public reputation in this period, however, early modern German law assumed, and to some extent, justified, the forceful defense of honor. Between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, the law increasingly came to legitimize the expression of anger in insult cases, recognizing it as a potentially mitigating or exculpatory factor. Many territorial and civic codes also defined a legal "right of retort" that allowed a certain measure of verbal "self-help" when individuals judged that their honor had been offended. These developments complicate Norbert Elias' suggestion that standards of civility emerging in this period increasingly proscribed the passionate defense of honor and the pursuit of private justice. Far from demanding the suppression of anger, the law increasingly came to protect it, while at the same time seeking to tame its more destructive manifestations.


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pp. 272-292
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