Cover image for A Weaver-Poet and the Plague: Labor, Poverty, and the Household in Shakespeare’s London By Scott Oldenburg

A Weaver-Poet and the Plague

Labor, Poverty, and the Household in Shakespeare’s London

Scott Oldenburg

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$99.95 | Hardcover Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-08715-3

284 pages
6" × 9"
2020

Cultural Inquiries in English Literature, 1400–1700

A Weaver-Poet and the Plague

Labor, Poverty, and the Household in Shakespeare’s London

Scott Oldenburg

A Weaver-Poet and the Plague interacts expertly with primary sources and secondary literature about the plague, the labor of poor men and women in early modern London, grief and gender. This original book offers a fascinating reading of the weaver William Muggins’s poem London’s Mourning Garment (1603) and a compelling microhistory of this poet in relation to his social network. Oldenburg offers a fresh perspective on a ‘nonaristocratic aesthetics’ of low and middling sorts of poets and prose writers.”

 

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William Muggins, an impoverished but highly literate weaver-poet, lived and wrote in London at the turn of the seventeenth century, when few of his contemporaries could even read. A Weaver-Poet and the Plague’s microhistorical approach uses Muggins’s life and writing, in which he articulates a radical vision of a commonwealth founded on labor and mutual aid, as a gateway into a broader narrative about London’s “middling sort” during the plague of 1603.

In debt, in prison, and at odds with his livery company, Muggins was forced to move his family from the central London neighborhood called the Poultry to the far poorer and more densely populated parish of St. Olave’s in Southwark. It was here, confined to his home as that parish was devastated by the plague, that Muggins wrote his minor epic, London’s Mourning Garment, in 1603. The poem laments the loss of life and the suffering brought on by the plague but also reflects on the social and economic woes of the city, from the pains of motherhood and childrearing to anxieties about poverty, insurmountable debt, and a system that had failed London’s most vulnerable. Part literary criticism, part microhistory, this book reconstructs Muggins’s household, his reading, his professional and social networks, and his proximity to a culture of radical religion in Southwark.

Featuring an appendix with a complete version of London’s Mourning Garment, this volume presents a street-level view of seventeenth-century London that gives agency and voice to a class that is often portrayed as passive and voiceless.

A Weaver-Poet and the Plague interacts expertly with primary sources and secondary literature about the plague, the labor of poor men and women in early modern London, grief and gender. This original book offers a fascinating reading of the weaver William Muggins’s poem London’s Mourning Garment (1603) and a compelling microhistory of this poet in relation to his social network. Oldenburg offers a fresh perspective on a ‘nonaristocratic aesthetics’ of low and middling sorts of poets and prose writers.”
“Scott Oldenburg's interdisciplinary approach in A Weaver-Poet and the Plague, with its synthesis of historical detail and literary textual analysis, offers numerous insights into how plague writing related to everyday life in early modern England. The level of archival research in the manuscript, and particularly the use of parish registers, is to be applauded.”

Scott Oldenburg is Associate Professor of English at Tulane University. He is the author of Alien Albion: Literature and Immigration in Early Modern England.

Acknowledgments

Introduction: The Silk-Weavers’ Song

1. Company and Complaint: The Limits of Craft Identity

2. Life and Debt in the Poultry: The Communal Bonds of the Parish

3. Grief and Grievance: Communal Elegy in St. Olave’s Parish

4. The Jeremiah of Southwark: The Prophetic Poetry of William Muggins

Epilogue: The Horizon of the Past

Appendix: London’s Mourning Garment

Notes

Bibliography

Index

Download a PDF sample chapter here: Introduction