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Journeymen in MurderThe Assassin in English Renaissance Drama$
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Martin Wiggins

Print publication date: 1991

Print ISBN-13: 9780198112280

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198112280.001.0001

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The Sophistication of the Stereotype

The Sophistication of the Stereotype

(p.148) 8 The Sophistication of the Stereotype
Journeymen in Murder

Martin Wiggins

Oxford University Press

In general, early Jacobean dramatists were less explicitly moralistic than their Elizabethan predecessors. Their plays deal with villainy not in order to brand as unethical certain forms of political and social behaviour, but as a human experience: in Macbeth and plays like it, for instance, characters are shown in states of premeditation, and dramatic tension comes as much from the decision to commit murder as from the murder itself. The playwrights and audiences of the late 1580s and early 1590s were interested in hired assassins as embodiments of the sixteenth century's concern about the moral and social implications of the unrestrained pursuit of money. The plays dealt with abstract issues that might have been addressed using the techniques of the recently outmoded morality drama. The apothecary is not an assassin, but William Shakespeare's presentation of him, radical in its time, heralded new attitudes to crime that gave a further dimension to the type. One aspect of this development was the assimilation of the assassin to the common early seventeenth-century figure of the malcontent.

Keywords:   William Shakespeare, assassins, murder, plays, drama, malcontent, apothecary, crime

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