Dana-Allen Dissertation Fellow (2008-2009)
Rabblement of Rascals: Representing Criminality, Poverty and Social Change in Early Modern England
Basu’s dissertation considers the discourse of criminality in early modern culture, especially in drama and popular literature, and argues that the literary depiction of crime was often a way of negotiating changing social relations in the period. The project explores how particular practices, bodies or groups are marked as “criminal” – even as it suggests the need to question the boundaries that constitute this category. While critics such as Carroll, Woodbridge and Fumerton have produced seminal studies in recent years on the criminalization of the vagrant poor, Anupam approaches the discourse of crime as part of a broader matrix of socioeconomic transformation that includes not only the displaced underclass but also other emergent social spheres that structure new forms of civic and private identity. The demonized figure of the criminal – the vagrant rogue, the urban cony-catcher, the whore, the trickster etc – is ubiquitous in early modern texts, testifying to a fear of the criminal and a fascination with criminality that often far outstrips its actual historical circumstances. Reading a wide variety of texts, from ballads and jestbooks, rogue and cony-catching pamphlets, to plays by Dekker, Middleton, Shakespeare and Jonson, Anupam argues that this fascination with criminal deviance results from the widespread economic and social mobility and displacement that accompanied the development of early capitalism. The dissertation traces how the imagined figure of the criminal becomes a projection for concerns about order and stability in the face of apparent social crisis: problems of vagrancy and poverty, changing notions of status and class, the redefinition of domestic and public spheres, and the rapid development of an urban, commodity culture.
Anupam Basu is a doctoral candidate in the Department of English at UW-Madison. He has been a fellow at the University of Warwick, UK in 2007-08 and is currently completing his dissertation at the Institute. His interests include early modern popular literature and drama – especially the intersections of literary criticism, studies of material culture, and social history – as well as literary theory.