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Reading Notes on Adam Foxe's article

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Jennifer Mori

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Adam Fox - Ballads, Libels and Popular Ridicule in Jacobean England
Little known what life was like for poor (illiterate) ppl
Difficult to assess reception of texts
Attempts made to penetrate mental world of ordinary ppl through “popular lit”
i.e. prints, pamphlets, newsbooks, almanacs, ballads, chapbooks
price and print runs, content = inferences about markets and milieux
this is speculative - don’t know if these penetrated lowest levels or rural society
Were they didactic or reflective? (2)
uncertain if and how print was consumed by majority of English
certain: not produced by them
can recognize them as more active agents in construction of their forms of
expression: e.g. their rhymes, verses, ballads preserved in legal records – libellous
this literature – we know who invented these songs, circumstances, where
circulated (49)
offer a more vivid, responsive insight into popular attitudes and values; can be
tested against responses/reactions evoked
these sources – relocated silent majority as producers/initiators in cultural process
can gain access to popular mentalities
Dec. 1605 – inn of Edward Freme, “Swan” – group planned to blacken name of
George Hawkins – local squire, alleged to father bastard
Conspirators were to censure him by means of imaginative ridicule – composed a
“libel”, he was to be “balladed”
None of them able to write – sought services of 3 travelling tradesmen
Made copies of it and distributed it in inn and other inns – Hawkins prosecuted
them in court (51)
Example of way ordinary ppl composed songs to publicize news/rumour, info,
Home-made ballads of contemporary society
“pen-man” sought out; drawings made; personal distribution/performances
First: dissemination by oral means, by songs taught to others; also written
Some of these were transient; only know those preserved in courts (libels)
Libels – concern issues which preoccupied ppl; insight into way verses created/
Court records – frequently employed this poetic medium
Some ppl – regular sport to engage in this lyrical ridicule (52)
References in contemporary lit reinforce impression that this phenomenon was
familiar part of cultural landscape e.g. Spenser’s Faerie Queene
Extempore ballads and libels exchanged in anger/mockery by ppl
Plays/interludes composed to add a dramatic element to libellous verses (54)
Libel, slander traditionally considered moral offences, dealt by ecclesiastical
authorities but now, defined as “criminal” – seditious if directed at authority,
breaches of the peace (55)
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