This exchange between William Browne and George Wither, thinly disguised as the shepherds Willy and Roget, is set in the Marshalsea where Wither had been imprisoned in March 1614. The prison is the physical manifestation of the con­ straints on speaking freely; such restrictions have spread beyond the confines of the prison walls to become a condition of the times. The Shepherds Hunting is one of a group of texts that appeared in 1614 and early 1615 that includes William Browne’s The Shepheards Pipe, published together with eclogues by Wither, Christopher Brooke, and John Davies of Hereford, Brooke’s The Ghost o f Richard the Third, and Wither’s A Satyre: Dedicated to His Most Excellent Majestie. One thing that these texts have in common is their characterisation of 1614 as a year in which England descended into tyranny. They did not go to the extent of branding James a tyrant king, but rather were drawing on an anti-court tradition in which tyranny is the condition of court life itself. Wither gave a particular inflection to this theme through his identification with the slandered David of the Psalms. As Anne Lake Prescott points out, to write about the Psalms was to engage in a political drama which has at its centre the abuse of public language. The Psalms present an image of court life in which tyrants are served by evil counsellors and, in doing so, place particular emphasis on the ways in which the channels of counsels, in which ideally words should serve the interests of the commonwealth, are being corrupted.2 For Wither, the counterpart of the abuse of counsel was censorship; evil counsellors took advantage of the corruption of the times to silence the faithful for their own ends. The writers involved in these volumes do see culture in distinctively oppositional terms. And yet they were not alone in their sense that public language had been subjected to unusual pressures in recent years, to the

extent that one can characterise 1614 as a year when the question of who had the authority to speak became particularly heated.