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“Poetick Rage” to Rage of Party: English Political Verse, 1678-1685

  • Author(s): McLaughlin, Leanna
  • Advisor(s): Cogswell, Thomas E
  • et al.

This dissertation examines the development of English partisanship and political culture from 1678-85 through the lens of political poetry and song. Verses enabled the creation of modern political parties and well-informed public spheres by aiding communication of partisan ideologies throughout the population of England. Historians of Britain have often underutilized this media format, but by exploring the competing narratives poets created, we can better understand what mobilized the population to engage in partisan activity. For two decades of Charles II’s reign, court factions jockeyed for power through highly sexualized manuscript satirical verse. But in 1678, the transformation of political factions into political parties began when explosive claims of a Popish Plot provoked a political crisis in Parliament. In the ensuing legislative upheaval surrounding Exclusion, the Licensing Act, which ensured prepublication censorship of print, lapsed quite unintentionally. The newly created Whig and Tory parties’ ideological platforms developed as they increasingly took to printed political verse to gain public support for their cause and denigrate their opponents. Both parties used libelous and seditious rhetoric in political verse to comment on and inform the populace of the affairs of state. Concerned with the growing unrest, the government fought back in the same medium and challenged local authority when it neglected to prosecute radical rhetoric. Upon succession in 1685, James II directed his Parliament to reinstitute the Licensing Act. Despite trying to use verse to craft the narrative in his favor, political verse and song ushered James out in the Revolution of 1688. Ultimately this dissertation will reveal that poetry and verse aided in the emergence of public spheres through the power of an unchecked press, and helped foster a skeptical populace, who became alert to potential challenges to political sovereignty.

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