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The Language of Defendants in the 17 th -Century English Courtroom

A Socio-Pragmatic Analysis of the Prisoners’ Interactional Role and Representation

Elisabetta Cecconi

This volume analyses the defence system in the 17 th -century English courtroom and sees how defendants attempted to construct their discourse identity and articulate their defence in the arraignment section and in the evidence phase of the trial. Drawing upon theories from socio-pragmatics and (critical) discourse analysis the book investigates the complex face-work dynamics operating between defendants and professionals/witnesses, the main defence strategies adopted in the evidence phase and – at the author-readership discourse level – the way in which Royalist defendants were represented in Royalist accounts in the turbulent years of the Civil War. The author draws on a rich variety of trial texts: from high treason to religious subversion, from murder to felony and misdemeanour. In each case the defendant’s discourse behaviour is scrutinised in relation to historical, socio-cultural and institutional variables.
In its double focus on the defendants’ interactional role in the trial and their representation in Royalist accounts, the book offers a valuable reading for historical courtroom linguists, legal historians and researchers in the field of language, ideology and political propaganda in the early modern period.


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Part two - The representation of defendants in treason cases


143 Part two The representation of defendants in treason cases Chapter 4 Representation of defendants as a form of political propaganda 4.1 Object and aims of the analysis In this chapter the focus of analysis shifts from the interactional role of defendants to their representation at the author-readership dis- course level. In this regard, I examine three famous court cases for high treason taken from the ST: the trial of Thomas Wentworth, earl of Strafford (1641), the trial of the Duke of Hamilton (1649) and the trial of William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury (1644). For the pur- poses of the analysis, I have ordered the three trials according to their telling mode rather than chronologically. Even so the dates testify to their importance in the history of Stuart England, covering the major phases of the Civil War, from its preparation to its outcome. The three political prisoners were all tried for their alignment with Charles I’s Personal Rule and the accounts of their trials are all Royalist in stance though they vary in terms of their reporting mode. In fact, while the trials of Strafford and Hamilton have been written by an ex- ternal recorder who presents himself as an eye-witness to the proceed- ings, the trial of Laud has been recorded by himself a posteriori. The analysis focuses on the representation of the defendant, be it in the form of other-presentation (trial of Strafford and Hamilton) or self- presentation (trial of William Laud). This requires an in-depth investigation of...

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