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Mortal ThoughtsReligion, Secularity, & Identity in Shakespeare and Early Modern Culture$
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Brian Cummings

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199677719

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199677719.001.0001

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Public Oaths & Private Selves

Public Oaths & Private Selves

(p.133) 4 Public Oaths & Private Selves
Mortal Thoughts

Brian Cummings

Oxford University Press

The boundary between private and public is a central issue in the formation of subjectivity, often presented as a key to the emergence of modernity. This is imagined in ways ranging from the idea of the invention of ‘private life’ to that of the formation of a ‘public sphere’. This chapter investigates contrasting medieval and early modern concepts of the ‘public’, by examining scenes on the eve of execution. It looks at More's intervention in trials in the early 1530s, and the re-imagination of those events in Foxe. It also looks at More's own trial and execution. The key concept is the ‘oath’ used to determine private and public values, and the determination of personal truth and identity. In the last part of the chapter the focus moves to Shakespeare's Othello, where oaths are desacralized as swearing and cussing, leading once more to violent death.

Keywords:   public, private, oath, execution, trial, forensic, truth, identity, swearing, Othello

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