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Domestic DangersWomen, Words, and Sex in Early Modern London$
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Laura Gowing

Print publication date: 1998

Print ISBN-13: 9780198207634

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198207634.001.0001

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Narratives of Litigation

Narratives of Litigation

(p.232) 7 Narratives of Litigation
Domestic Dangers

Laura Gowing

Oxford University Press

In the legal battles over slander, conjugal commitment, and marital breakdown, complaints and conflicts were articulated through the stories told in court. In and outside the court, these stories reflected the conflicts and adjustments of gender relations in the social and domestic sphere. Legal narratives were told to a judicial audience listening for plausibility: the conventions and formulas they used were ones that made sense in canon law. The whole contest of meanings that characterized litigation at the church courts was one liable to be inflected by gender. In marital disputes, witnesses had to ally themselves either with a man's story or a woman's; and very often, both sides were telling an archetypal version, a man's tale of the betrayals of adultery or a woman's tale of the drama of violence. In court, the stereotypes of men and women that populated familiar stories clashed; at one level, narratives of litigation reveal the mechanics of conflict between gender stereotypes and gendered stories.

Keywords:   slander, litigation, legal narratives, gender relations, church courts, witnesses, adultery, violence, marital disputes

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