Anxiety Fiction

Domestic Poisoning in Early Modern News, Arden of Faversham, and Hamlet

in Explorations in Renaissance Culture
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In response to the representational copia surrounding poisoning, critics have tended to focus on how early modern writers adopted Italianate settings and characters due to the pervasive correlation between poison and Italy in England’s cultural imagination. This critical preoccupation has led to an undervaluing of the role that domestic English news depictions of poison played in the construction of criminality. Contemporary media theorizations concerning the commercial uses of fear help unpack how early modern news reports depicted the threat of household poisoning out of proportion to actual risk in order to profit from developing public anxiety. Popular drama, as evidenced in Arden of Faversham and Hamlet, responded to the news media’s commercialization of fear by creating its own set of “anxiety fictions” that were crucial in defining deviancy and proliferating public apprehension. Ultimately, various forms of cultural media reinforced public fears surrounding the threat of domestic subversion and concomitantly had a negative effect on social and legal policy.

Anxiety Fiction

Domestic Poisoning in Early Modern News, Arden of Faversham, and Hamlet

in Explorations in Renaissance Culture


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ShakespeareHamlet 5.2.5.


ShakespeareHamlet 5.2.59–73. John Hunt contends that “it has become a commonplace in Hamlet criticism that the motif of ulcerous infection and corruption…centers on the speech in which Hamlet is told how poison was poured into his father’s ears coursed through his blood and ate away his body from within” (32).


ShakespeareHamlet 5.2.63–4.


ShakespeareHamlet 5.2.67. Kenneth Gross describes this scene as “a kind of aural rape” (61) and Tanya Pollard reads the Ghost’s relation as one that particularly evokes “the vulnerability of the interior self to the contaminating power of language” (124).


ShakespeareHamlet 4.7.65.


ShakespeareHamlet 4.7.68–69.


ShakespeareHamlet 5.2.214.


ShakespeareHamlet 5.2.241.


ShakespeareHamlet 5.2.242.


ShakespeareHamlet 5.2. 278–279.


ShakespeareHamlet 5.2.260–261.


ShakespeareHamlet 5.2.271–2. The play’s inclusion of Laertes’ confession ties it generically to crime journalism as news reports consistently included verbatim criminal confessions as a main selling feature. J.A. Sharpe notes that “the purpose of these speeches unsurprisingly enough was to remind spectators that the death of the condemned constituted an awful warning” (lds 150).


ShakespeareHamlet 5.2. 280–281.


ShakespeareHamlet 3.3.80–81.


ShakespeareHamlet 2.2.586.


Greenblatt 1665.


ShakespeareJulius Caesar 2.1.180.


ShakespeareHamlet 5.2.330–331.


ShakespeareHamlet 5.2.294.


ShakespeareHamlet 5.2.292–293.


ShakespeareHamlet 5.2.332–339.


ShakespeareHamlet 5.2.334.


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    Frontispiece from Anonymous, The Araignement & Burning of Margaret Ferne-seede. London: 1608

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