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John Taylor the Water Poet, 1578-1653

November 27, 2012

Johann Gregory (Cardiff University) will be presenting a paper in Aix-en-Provence this week at an international symposium on Transmission and Transgression in Early Modern England.

Transgression Through Punishment:

John Taylor and the ‘Willful Women’

“Returning from his trip around Wales at the age of 74, John Taylor a.k.a. The Water-Poet spent the final weekend of August 1652 at the village of Barnsley, about sixteen miles from Gloucester, his hometown. Taylor writes in his published travel diary that “Of all the places in England and Wales that I have travelled to, this village of Barnsley doth most strictly observe the Lord’s day, or Sunday”; he goes on to inform his readers of the doubly transgressive actions of two inhabitants:

two women who had beene at church both before and after noone, did but walke into the fields for their recreation, and they were put to their choice, either to pay sixpence apiece (for prophane walking,) or to be laid one houre in the stocks; and the peevish willfull women (though they were able enough to pay) to save their money and jest out the matter, lay both by the heeles merrily one houre.

Whether this event occurred as reported or not, issues of transmission and transgression are writ large in Taylor’s story; the implication seems to be that it was expected the women would want to pay the fine rather than be humiliated, although according to Taylor the women had the last laugh. The paper will contextualise this passage in terms of Taylor’s often entertaining travel writing – and the larger representation of Puritans and “willfull women” – in order to address the implications for Taylor’s account of apparent transgression through punishment.”

Find out more about the symposium organised by Aix-Marseille University here.

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