Soundscapes of punishment in Early Modern England

Hedger, Eleanor (2021). Soundscapes of punishment in Early Modern England. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

Text - Accepted Version
Available under License All rights reserved.

Download (19MB) | Preview


The violent and destructive potential of sound has long been known, extending back to at least antiquity with the alluring and fatal songs of sirens in Greek mythology. However, there is a surprising paucity of scholarship relating to the sounds associated with violence and punishment in the early modern world. With this in mind, this thesis sets out to enhance our understanding of the relationship between sound and punishment in early modern England by exploring the ways in which historical subjects experienced, interpreted, and responded to punitive soundscapes.

Firstly, I explore sound's ability to cause both physical and psychological harm during rituals of unofficial, popular punishment. I demonstrate that the punitive and judicial dimensions of rough music and libelling can only be fully realised when we open our ears to their sounding qualities, ultimately amplifying the prevalence of sonic violence in early modern England. This thesis also explores the soundscapes of rituals of official (state-sanctioned) punishment, demonstrating that spaces such as the prison and the gallows were shaped and transformed through sonic production. Whilst sound could function as a means of violence and punishment, it also offered a medium for resistance, endurance, and self-expression within these contexts. Finally, I explore how communities engaged with the discourse of public execution through the singing and hearing of popular ballads, and how these songs helped shape attitudes towards capital punishment more generally.

At the more conceptual level, this thesis interrogates the ways in which sound interacted with networks of power through a Foucauldian lens, opening our ears to the multifaceted power struggles that surfaced during punitive rituals, and the ways in which individuals navigated their surroundings in times of oppression. Drawing insights from musicological, historical, literary, and critical methodologies, this approach offers an original, nuanced, and interdisciplinary method for understanding a period of political and religious instability, ultimately helping us sharpen our ears to the violent and punitive, but also the consolatory power, of the sonic realm.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of Languages, Cultures, Art History and Music, Department of Music
Funders: Arts and Humanities Research Council
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
D History General and Old World > D History (General)
M Music and Books on Music > ML Literature of music


Request a Correction Request a Correction
View Item View Item


Downloads per month over past year