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date: 16 September 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter considers the relationship between satire and the law during the eighteenth century. After the lapse of pre-publication licensing in 1695, satirists remained subject to the common law of libel (including seditious libel, blasphemous libel, and criminal libel) and to treason laws. Satirists and publishers used various strategies to evade prosecution under those laws: most notably anonymous publication (in print or in manuscript) and creative forms of ambiguity. This chapter surveys examples of those strategies in some famous and lesser known texts, before considering the introduction of the new Licensing Act in 1737, which restricted satire on the stage. Libel prosecutions continued even while the trend for hard-hitting lampoons faded out after the 1750s, but predominantly as a means of prosecuting political troublemakers.

Keywords: satire, law, seditious libel, licensing, Jonathan Swift, anonymity, innuendo, Henry Fielding, John Wilkes

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