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Looking back at images of violence in the popular culture of early modern England, we find that the specter of the murderer loomed most vividly not in the stranger, but in the familiar; and not in the master, husband, or father, but in the servant, wife, or mother. A gripping exploration of seventeenth-century accounts of domestic murder in fact and fiction, this book is the first to ask why. Frances E. Dolan examines stories ranging from the profoundly disturbing to the comically macabre: of husband murder, wife murder, infanticide, and witchcraft. She surveys trial transcripts, confessions, and scaffold speeches, as well as pamphlets, ballads, popular plays based on notorious crimes, and such well-known works as The Tempest, Othello, Macbeth, and The Winter's Tale. Citing contemporary analogies between the politics of household and commonwealth, she shows how both legal and literary narratives attempt to restore the order threatened by insubordinate dependents.
Frances E. Dolan is Distinguished Professor of English at UC Davis. She is the author of Whores of Babylon: Catholicism, Gender, and Seventeenth-Century Print Culture, Marriage and Violence: The Early Modern Legacy, and True Relations: Reading, Literature, and Evidence in Seventeenth-Century England.