‘Murdered Man’: Re-Examining Keats in The Examiner

Brian Rejack, Susan J. Wolfson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

In John Keats’s Isabella; or the Pot of Basil (1820), Isabella’s mercantile brothers plot to murder her suitor, their clerk Lorenzo, for spoiling their plans to marry her to ‘some high noble and his olive–trees’. Having invited him for a day of hunting in the local forests, ‘the two brothers and their murder’d man’ (XXVII) head out–an epithet admired by Charles Lamb, and much afterwards, for Keats’s skill in narrative anticipation. Lamb’s praise was published in a review of the 1820 volume, reprinted in The Examiner, 30 July, 494-5. This appreciation is on page 494. On page 495, just below the review, is a report of ‘Executions’ at Newgate prison. One of the condemned is a ‘black man’, William Wilkinson, who insisted that he was framed and convicted on flimsy testimony, protesting that ‘he was a murdered man, and that he should die innocently’. This was an accidental discovery on our part, but once discovered a magnetic curiosity. Our essay examines what Lamb calls Keats’s ‘wonderfully conceived’ epithet, in the capital contexts of Keats’s day, most especially in reports in The Examiner and other newspapers. Making no claim for allusion on Keats’s part, or for Lamb’s admiration of this epithet, we shine an unexpected light on the urgent currency of this epithet, a potent rhetorical alliance among victims of ‘judicial murder’, and its new cast on economic power and tyranny in Isabella.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)11-29
Number of pages19
JournalKeats-Shelley Review
Volume35
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Literature and Literary Theory

Keywords

  • capital punishment
  • gallows protest
  • Isabella
  • John Keats
  • narrative prolepsis
  • the Examiner
  • William Wilkinson
  • ‘murdered man’

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