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date: 04 March 2021

Abstract and Keywords

Shakespeare’s active life appears to have coincided with a temporary increase in both the homicide rate and numbers of people executed for murder in England. Drawing upon both print and manuscript sources, this chapter historicizes homicide in late sixteenth and early seventeenth-century England examining changes in murder’s incidence, legal definitions, and reporting in ‘true crime’ pamphlets. In addition to surveying the punishment of such relatively new forms of homicide as death by witchcraft and by dueling, it traces the developing distinctions between murder and manslaughter, including the new emphasis jurists placed on provocation over hotbloodedness. Highlighting novelties in a story that can seem unchanging, it argues that murder’s meanings proved particularly malleable in these years, not least in becoming clothed more completely in a rhetoric of ‘public’ interests.

Keywords: homicide, murder, manslaughter, punishment, provocation, witchcraft, duel, pamphlets

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