This article explores cultural, social, political, and theatrical manipulations of the halter (or noose) in the early modern period. It begins with a consideration of what an investigation of the halter might hope to achieve, via E. P. Thompson’s analysis of the object’s symbolism in later wife sales. It then explores the ambivalent symbolic properties of the halter in mid-sixteenth-century social conflict, before broadening the discussion to consider how the halter entered into diverse literatures of the time. The second half of the essay uses two theatrical case studies to ground further explorations of the halter’s cultural capital: Mankind (ca. 1580s), and Edward III (1596). The article concludes by arguing that during the sixteenth century the halter became in effect a property of the state, enmeshed in a dialectic of state-organized punishment and demonstrations of sovereign mercy.
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