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Terrorism Before the Letter

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Terrorism Before the Letter: Literatures of Political Violence in Britain and France, 1559-1660 is sponsored by the the Leverhulme Trust. It is based in part on research previously conducted with support from the British Academy. It will highlight historical episodes of terrorist-type violence in Britain and France, like the assassination of Gaspard de Coligny (leading to the Saint Bartholomew's Day Massacre) and the Gunpowder Plot, and it will discuss how literature, from obscure works of journalism and political polemic to great works of art like Julius Caesar and Cinna responded to the idea of terrorist violence.

In brief: terrorism in this period has no theory, it has no name, it is a terrorism <em>avant la lettre</em>; but it entails a complex imaginary that struggles with the problem of the attractiveness of violence and the disquietingly fragile legitimacy of peace. To encounter the idea of terrorist violence <em>avant la lettre</em> was to be called upon to come to terms with how societies are made, and unmade, by aggression, idealism, malice, and surrender. There was in fact no real coming to terms with the fragilities of political life that the legacy of terrorist violence exposed. But that is what this book is about: how the literature of the period mediated the nature of terrorist violence without coming to terms with it.