Rogues, Vagabonds and Beggars: from Laws to Rogue Books and Canting

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This essay explores the Elizabethan underworld as described by Shakespeare’s contemporaries. In the backdrop of the laws introduced by Elizabeth I, this essay introduces the main criminal categories and characters living in late 16th-century London. These mysterious and sometimes charming characters are depicted in a substantial number of prose texts whose aim was to inform and instruct ordinary readers, and above all magistrates, on the organization of the underworld so that criminals could be unmasked and their tricks brought to light. Dekker’s works, as much as Harman’s 'Caveat', Awdeley’s 'Vagabonds' and Greene’s text on cozenage describe this milieu as a very well-structured social system, based on a strict hierarchy and on a complex linguistic code, Canting, which was meant to preserve the milieu from the outer world. Canting was made up of elements from different areas of the country, mingled in the biggest town of the kingdom, London, to which all vagabonds flocked.
Lingua originaleEnglish
pagine (da-a)3-35
Numero di pagine33
Stato di pubblicazionePubblicato - 2022


  • Elizabethan underworld, Peddler’s French and Canting
  • John Awdeley’s The Fraternity of Vagabonds
  • Robert Greene’s A Notable Discovery of Cozenage
  • Thomas Harman’s A Caveat of Common Cursitors, Vulgarly Called Vagabonds
  • Thomas Dekker’s The Bel man of London and Lantern and Candle-Light


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