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Savage Properties and Violent Forms

Christopher Brooke’s ‚Poem on the Late Massacre in Virginia‘ (1622) and the Discourse on Civility and Possession in Early Modern America

Peter Schneck

Pages 169 - 190


The following essay attempts to discuss the convergence of legal and poetical discourse and concepts by looking closely at an early modern lyrical text, Christopher Brooke’s ‘A Poem on the Late Massacre in Virginia’ (1622). While the poem has achieved a certain notoriety due to its excessively racist imagery, its author has been virtually forgotten, and the text has rarely, if ever, been discussed in regard to its particular poetic strategies. A discussion of these strategies might help us understand the specific ways in which, in the context of colonial expansion, early modern English poetry about sovereignty, civility, and indigenous culture(s) helped to develop a discursive ‘field’ which blends aesthetic concerns for proper forms (i. e., the specific ‘properties’ of poetry as normative speech) with legal-political and philosophical ideas about rightful conquest, dominion, and colonial property. In Brooke’s poem the convergence between these spheres finds its most explicit expression in the deconstruction and reconstruction of ‘civil bodies’— meaning both the bodies of specific victims of the massacre and the civil body politic of the colonial commonwealth which the Virginia Company tried to establish. In conclusion, the analysis and the contextual interpretation of Brooke’s text are meant to project a comparative perspective on law and poetry as acts of normative codification.


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