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Imagining insurrection in seventeenth-century England : representations of the Midland Rising of 1607

By Steve Hindle


This essay reconstructs the discourses concerning hunger, protest, punishment and paternalism that circulated during and after the Midland Rising, a series of anti-enclosure protests which spread across the counties of Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and Warwickshire in the late spring and early summer of 1607. Through a reconstruction of the views of the rebel leader John Reynolds, of the monarch King James I, of the clergyman Robert Wilkinson and of the crown-lawyer Francis Bacon, it is suggested that, although though they disagreed about whether hunger might ever justify insurrection, those implicated in the Rising and its suppression shared a stock of common idioms – the scriptural critique of enclosure derived from the Book of Isaiah, the classical metaphor of the body politic, the hunger-pangs of the empty belly – with which to discuss the social problems of the day. These idioms, it is argued, were also deployed by a fifth observer of the Midland Rising, who in Act one Scene one of Coriolanus (first performed in 1608) represented a company of mutinous citizens standing up about the corn. Coriolanus is arguably Shakespeare's attempt to imagine insurrection by dramatizing it, and therefore constitutes a fertile source for the historian of early modern popular protest. \ud \u

Topics: DA
Publisher: Oxford University Press
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