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4 - Civility

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 March 2022

Kristin A. Olbertson
Affiliation:
Alma College
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Summary

Contempt, cursing, and defamation all actively caused harm to others and threatened to destabilize social hierarchies of gentility. As politeness became the political language that enabled the exercise of power by elites and allowed them to recognize each other as the rightful possessors of public authority, criminal prosecutions of uncivil speech helped define political roles and relationships. Contempt prosecutions punished impolite speech from the lower orders, but the law also rewarded appropriately submissive speech (such as apologies) from them. The fact that these negotiations occurred exclusively among men reflects how both the politeness regime and the king’s peace itself were increasingly marginalizing women. The vast majority of those prosecuted for cursing were men of relatively low social status; this offense was understood to threaten the polite ethos and the civil order. Defamation became in the eighteenth century a crime of the lower orders, while polite gentlemen channeled their own defamatory impulses into a highly specific and legally protected written form: satire.

Type
Chapter
Information
The Dreadful Word
Speech Crime and Polite Gentlemen in Massachusetts, 1690–1776
, pp. 127 - 180
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2022

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  • Civility
  • Kristin A. Olbertson
  • Book: The Dreadful Word
  • Online publication: 03 March 2022
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781009106535.004
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  • Civility
  • Kristin A. Olbertson
  • Book: The Dreadful Word
  • Online publication: 03 March 2022
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781009106535.004
Available formats
×

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

  • Civility
  • Kristin A. Olbertson
  • Book: The Dreadful Word
  • Online publication: 03 March 2022
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781009106535.004
Available formats
×