This essay won the 2007 Literature Compass Graduate Essay Prize, Seventeenth Century Section. This paper argues that the case of the Ranters can help illuminate how attitudes about authority and rebellion were changing in mid‐seventeenth‐century England, and how that process was influenced by printed pamphlets. The Ranters themselves were a print phenomenon – a group largely defined by oppositional writers. These writers applied the traditionally pejorative figure of Satan to the Ranters as a means of denunciation and literal demonization. However, this process was pursued haphazardly and applied to a wide variety of actual beliefs, resulting in a newly complicated meaning of what it meant to be an outsider, a rebel, or a devil. Satan became associated more with an impulse for tearing down and negating established categories of moral behavior, and this mitigated his traditional pejorative associations precisely because it challenged the ability of an observer to say that something was ‘immoral’. The association of Satan with the Ranters figures into a much broader seventeenth‐century re‐evaluation of authority, rebellion, and the figure of the Grand Rebel himself.
Literature Compass – Wiley
Published: May 1, 2008
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