Introduction: Crowded Spaces

  • Ian Munro
Part of the Early Modern Cultural Studies book series (EMCSS)


This book is a study of the figure of the crowd in early modern London. Its context is London’s extraordinary growth in the period: metropolitan London quadrupled in size between 1500 and 1600, and one of the things that this population crisis triggered was a social crisis about the symbolic meaning of the city. Urban crowds became an inescapable presence during the late sixteenth century, and the literature and official proclamations of the time reflect a pervasive unease about the crowdedness and human disorder of the city. Through an examination of the crowd topos in a wide variety of literary and social contexts, I argue that the crowd operated as the visible manifestation of an increasingly incomprehensible city, the tangible referent onto which the desires and fears provoked by London’s swelling mass were projected. I further argue that in both the streets and the playhouses, the crowd was a powerfully contradictory presence, symbolizing conflicting aspects of the city through metonymy (the city assembled, the public city, the urban community) and metaphor (the city as chaos, random movement, violence, anonymity, and monstrous growth).


Urban Space Urban Culture Henry VIII Official Proclamation Crowded Mobility 
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© Ian Munro 2005

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  • Ian Munro

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