chapter  4
21 Pages

Shame and Malice in the Eighteenth-Century Criminal Court and Community

ByE.J. Snell

Emotion played a central role in eighteenth-century narratives of rape trials. The courts provided the victims, prisoners, and witnesses with an opportunity to share their feelings arising from the crime, and these depictions offer valuable insights into the contemporary meanings of acceptable emotional interpretations of, and responses to, rape, its prosecution, and judicial outcome. This chapter focuses on the representation of shame and malice, as well as guilt, in printed accounts of the occurrence and prosecution of rape. Whilst the female plaintiffs were portrayed as experiencing and expressing shame, the male defendants were represented as employing available discourses of guilt and eschewing labels of being ashamed. These emotional standards reflected eighteenth-century attitudes towards gender roles and society more widely, but they made it difficult for plaintiffs to achieve a successful prosecution. In presenting victimisation within discourses of shame, the plaintiffs were cast as dishonourable and deviant, with many denounced as malicious. In contrast, discourses of guilt allowed the male defendants to be presented as potentially culpable but ultimately redeemable. The performance and representation of emotions, then, was more than an incidental outpouring of feelings, and instead a means to negotiate power and achieve desired goals.