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‘A monster shapeless’: equivocation and the treasonous imagination

Wake, Paul (2011) ‘A monster shapeless’: equivocation and the treasonous imagination. Textual practice, 25 (5). pp. 941-960. ISSN 0950-236X (Unpublished)

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Abstract

Dealing with the immediate aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot (1605), this article investigates the competing claims to truth of both terrorist plots and those narratives they seek to displace. Through a reading of Henry Garnet's ‘A Treatise of Equivocation’ (1595), I argue that it is in this attempted displacement of the truth that equivocation reveals its terrorist potential. Accordingly, late-sixteenth and early-seventeenth century discourses on equivocation are read here in relation to early-modern literary theory to figure equivocation as an irruption of the poetic within the language of law. In making this argument, Garnet's Treatise and the literary-theoretical work of Francis Bacon, George Puttenham and Philip Sidney are read alongside the work of J. L. Austin, Maurice Blanchot, Jacques Derrida, Immanuel Kant and Jean-François Lyotard in order to pursue a reading of lying, literature and metaphor that locates the challenge to authority posed by equivocation in its evocation of the performative aspect of truth-telling.

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