In this book Bryan Reynolds argues that early modern England
experienced a sociocultural phenomenon, unprecedented in English
history, which has been largely overlooked by historians and
critics. Beginning in the 1520s, a distinct "criminal culture" of
beggars, vagabonds, confidence tricksters, prostitutes, and gypsies
emerged and flourished. This community defined itself through its
criminal conduct and dissident thought and was, in turn, officially
defined by and against the dominant conceptions of English cultural
Examining plays, popular pamphlets, laws, poems, and scholarly
work from the period, Reynolds demonstrates that this criminal
culture, though diverse, was united by its own ideology, language,
and aesthetic. Using his transversal theory, he shows how the
enduring presence of this criminal culture markedly influenced the
mainstream culture's aesthetic sensibilities, socioeconomic
organization, and systems of belief. He maps the effects of the
public theater's transformative force of transversality, such as
through the criminality represented by Shakespeare, Jonson,
Middleton, and Dekker, on both Elizabethan and Jacobean society and
the scholarship devoted to it.
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