This article focuses on early modern England to explore the relation between the definition and prosecution of crime through lawmaking and law enforcement on the one hand, and the cultural representation of crime and surveillance on the other. While at the time the control of crime was extremely faulty, culture was part of the apparatus of psychopolicing that was implemented to prevent and contain transgression. Two main areas of crime will be discussed. The first embraces witchcraft, Catholicism, and atheism. Controlling beliefs was a major concern in early modern England since religious divisions eroded the monological discourse of the divine on which mundane authority also rested. The second area includes high treason, petty treason, and vagrancy. All these notions of crime were functional to the preservation of the social order, reflecting the self-validating strategy of sovereign power, which presented its relation with society as mirroring that between God and creation.
Maurizio Ascari teaches English Literature at the University of Bologna (Italy). His publications include books and essays on crime fiction (A Counter-History of Crime Fiction, 2007, nominated for the Edgar Awards), transcultural literature (Literature of the Global Age, 2011), and interart exchanges (Cinema and the Imagination in Katherine Mansfield’s Writing, 2014). He has also edited and translated works by Henry James, Katherine Mansfield, William Faulkner, Jack London, and William Wilkie Collins.