Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Language More Foul In Elizabethan Street Theatre Than 21st Century TV, Reveals Historian

Date:
October 16, 2003
Source:
University Of Warwick
Summary:
UK broadcasters are often accused of promoting obscenity through the increased use of bad language on TV. However, new research from the University of Warwick reveals that the language of public name-calling, or 'street theatre', in early modern England was full of foul sexual insults that are far more lewd than today's broadcast media - and women were the main offenders.

UK broadcasters are often accused of promoting obscenity through the increased use of bad language on TV. However, new research from the University of Warwick reveals that the language of public name-calling, or 'street theatre', in early modern England was full of foul sexual insults that are far more lewd than today's broadcast media - and women were the main offenders.

Professor Bernard Capp's book 'When Gossips Meet', tracks the history of poor and 'middling' women from the mid 1500s to the 1700s, to reveal that gossipmongering and heated public exchanges were weapons used by women to wield power and influence in a male dominated society where they were often excluded.

Public name-calling by women aimed to demoralise an adversary, trigger damaging gossip throughout the neighbourhood, and turn public opinion against the alleged offender.

Allegations usually attacked a female adversary's sexual reputation. Prostitution was viewed as far worse than fornication, and the charge undermined social as well as moral standing. Court papers reveal the term 'whore' as the most common insult over several centuries.

"Massive overuse inevitably weakened the impact of 'whore' as a term of abuse, but speakers were able to draw on a rich lexicon of synonyms, such as jade, quean, baggage, harlot, drab, filth, flirt, gill, trull, dirtyheels, draggletail, flap, naughty-pack, slut, squirt, and strumpet, generally heightened by adjectives such as arrant, base, brazenfaced, or scurvy."

Veneral disease, especially syphilis or 'the pox', also featured prominently in abusive language. Taunts such as 'burnt-arsed whore' and 'pocky whore' were familiar throughout the country. 17th century church court papers cite several examples of highly offensive abuse: "At Bury St Edmunds Faith Wilson told her neighbour in 1619 to 'pull up your muffler higher and hide your pocky face, and go home and scrape your mangy arse'."

Quarrels and allegations often took place before witnesses, and public confrontation was staged for maximum effect. Gossip helps maintain social control: when someone is gossiped about, they restrict their behaviour. This gave women some control over erring husbands, abusive employers or sexually disreputable women.

Professor Capp, from the University of Warwick, said: "Heated exchanges of foul language between women was a familiar part of life in early modern England, and commonly took place in open streets. The language of 'street theatre' was rather blunt and offensive- even by today's post watershed TV standard."

Just as gossip can build social bonds, it can ruin reputations. Archdeaconry court papers record several cases where family or Parish life were torn apart by slander and gossip.

"Joan Webb of Wittlesford, Cambs., was rumoured in 1596 to be worse than any whore, for allegedly paid men to have sex with her, giving them some cheeses, venison and a shirt. The stories prompted a man who has been planning to marry her to break off the match, giving her 5 'to be rid of her'."

Networks of close friends and neighbours or 'gossips' provided companionship, a social identity outside the home, and emotional and practical support during disputes with husbands or neighbours. But alienation caused by malicious gossip was a real threat as the social economy of friends was crucial for ordinary women, as small loans or acts of kindness for a neighbour eased the lives of the poor.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University Of Warwick. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University Of Warwick. "Language More Foul In Elizabethan Street Theatre Than 21st Century TV, Reveals Historian." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 October 2003. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/10/031016064132.htm>.
University Of Warwick. (2003, October 16). Language More Foul In Elizabethan Street Theatre Than 21st Century TV, Reveals Historian. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 17, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/10/031016064132.htm
University Of Warwick. "Language More Foul In Elizabethan Street Theatre Than 21st Century TV, Reveals Historian." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/10/031016064132.htm (accessed April 17, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Are School Dress Codes Too Strict?

Are School Dress Codes Too Strict?

AP (Apr. 16, 2014) Pushing the limits on style and self-expression is a rite of passage for teens and even younger kids. How far should schools go with their dress codes? The courts have sided with schools in an era when school safety is paramount. (April 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Could Even Casual Marijuana Use Alter Your Brain?

Could Even Casual Marijuana Use Alter Your Brain?

Newsy (Apr. 16, 2014) A new study conducted by researchers at Northwestern and Harvard suggests even casual marijuana use can alter your brain. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Couples Who Sleep Less Than An Inch Apart Might Be Happiest

Couples Who Sleep Less Than An Inch Apart Might Be Happiest

Newsy (Apr. 16, 2014) A new study by British researchers suggests couples' sleeping positions might reflect their happiness. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Cognitive Function: Is It All Downhill From Age 24?

Cognitive Function: Is It All Downhill From Age 24?

Newsy (Apr. 15, 2014) A new study out of Canada says cognitive motor performance begins deteriorating around age 24. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins