Abstract: "At the Borders of Law and Literature: Eighteenth-Century English Satire in the Courts"
Andrew Bricker's talk will take up a disciplinary boundary between two fields: law and literature. His case study will be a series of borders in eighteenth-century England not only between law and literature—in this case, between satire and libel law—but also within these fields. Those include the borders and cross-border migrations between ostensibly valid satire and unethical lampooning; between legal conceptions of licit and illicit speech and writing; and between older, more direct models of satire, often built around invective, and newer models of satire, which emerge in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, that rely more heavily on extensive forms of circumlocution, including irony, allegory, and parody. In all of this, we can see the connections—another set of borders—between the interpretive practices of both jurors in court and everyday readers of satire, who were suddenly tasked with devising models for understanding both the verbal ambiguity that had come to saturate satire during the first decades of the eighteenth century and the dubious and purposefully misleading bibliographical forms in which these works circulated. In closing, I will return to the larger question of the relationship between law and literature, two disciplines often siloed off from one another. The extensive and ongoing reciprocity between legal and literary practices during the eighteenth century reveals the porousness of those borders and the long-term repercussions of those interactions for both satire today and press regulation in Anglophone legal systems.
Benjamin Bricker is an Assistant Professor of English in the Department of Literary Studies at Ghent University in Belgium and a Senior Fellow at the Andrew W. Mellon Society of Fellows in Critical Bibliography at the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia. He is the author of Libel and Lampoon: Satire in the Courts, 1670-1792 (Oxford University Press, 2022).