Taking Liberties: George Wither’s A Satyre, Libel and the Law

  • Michelle O’Callaghan
Part of the Language, Discourse, Society book series (LDS)

Abstract

By the time he wrote this passage, George Wither already had a reputation as a prison poet. Wither had spent over five months in the Marshalsea in 1614 over his satire Abuses Stript, and Whipt (1613), and when Withers Motto itself fell victim to ‘these guilty Times’, he once again found himself in prison. In fact, throughout his lengthy and prolific literary career, which began in 1612 and ended with his death in 1667, Wither was arrested six times and imprisoned on at least four occasions for his writings.1 Given this extensive experience and his reputation as an oppositional poet, Wither is an ideal candidate for a study of early Stuart censorship, and not surprisingly he has a prominent place in Cyndia Susan Clegg’s recent study Press Censorship in Jacobean England. Clegg takes to task a Whig model of censorship for its over-simplifying account of a repressive state determined to silence all dissent. Instead, she draws attention to the varied, and sometimes competing, interests informing censorship practices to argue that instances of press censorship were isolated events determined by local interests rather than a wider ideology. Clegg bases her conclusions about a culture of censorship primarily on evidence of press control.2

Keywords

Europe Defend Sonal Metaphor Verse 

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Notes

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    Interestingly, in this case Wither was arrested but probably not imprisoned; instead it was the printer, George Wood, who bore the brunt of the prosecution. In the case of Withers Motto, the authorities did question those involved about the regularity of its licensing, and printers and booksellers were duly fined, but at Wither’s examination they tried to discover if he had written it in contravention of the 1620 proclamation, and, in particular, if he was guilty of a libel. See Michelle O’Callaghan, The ‘Shepheards Nation’: Jacobean Spenserians and Early Stuart Political Culture, 1612–1625 (Clarendon Press, 2000), 185.Google Scholar
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michelle O’Callaghan

There are no affiliations available

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