This article treats book burning and censorship in England between the 1520s and the 1640s as part of the communications repertoire of the early modern state. Combating heresy, blasphemy, and sedition, Tudor and Stuart authorities subjected transgressive works to symbolic execution at key sites in London and the universities. The addition of the hangman to the ceremony in the 1630s reinforced the authority of the state over texts. But the ritual was not always performed according to the script. Through gesture, voice, and narrative, actors and spectators sometimes subverted the ceremony, imposing a contrary meaning on its message. Even as an exercise of power, book burning was unstable and ambivalent and was ultimately counterproductive.