A History of Crossroads in Early Modern Culture

Bill Angus

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Tracks the history of concepts and practices associated with the physical crossroads in the early modern period
  • Breaks new ground in the area of literary geography and enhances the historical understanding of the place of the crossroads in literary and cultural discourse
  • Unifies various discourses of early modern culture and subjectivity in terms of the experience and understanding of the crossroads
  • Locates issues around the ideology and experience of the road in one specific culturally significant place

Focusing on the crossroads in the early modern period, this book deals with the literature and history of the physical crossroads: it’s magical and religious encounters, rituals of transformation, binding of undesirable spirits, siting of gallows, associations with music, and links to ancient cosmology. Physical crossroads have been culturally vital sites where forces human, demonic and divine were felt to converge. Crossroads have seemed to render the boundaries between these spheres negotiable, subject to certain artifice and timing. They gave access to gods and facilitated deals with devils, they were potent sites for rituals intended to influence lovers or harm enemies and provided both a dramatic stage for communal activities and a burial ground for the unwanted dead cast out in ceremonies of the night.

Introduction. The Ways: Transformation, Binding and Presence

1. Axes: Ecstatic Heights and Nightmare Depths

2. Magic: Transformation and Self-determination

3. Music: Going Down to the Crossroads

4. Gods: Appointments with the Divine

5. Terminus: The Night, the Crossroads and the Stake

6. Literature: Liminal Ground in Early Modern Drama

7. Hallowed Roads: Routes to the Crossroads

8. Wanderers: The Predicament of a Stranger

9. Monsters: ‘Spirits of another sort’

10. Protection: The X in the Landscape

Conclusion. The Parting: Intersections

Bill Angus offers a rich and fascinating exploration of the symbolic potential of the uncanny points at which roads simultaneously meet and diverge, showing that whether as places for selling one’s soul, burying the outcast dead, or encountering the supernatural, crossroads in the early modern imagination were charged and dangerous. 
Lisa Hopkins, Sheffield Hallam University
Bill Angus is a Senior Lecturer in English at Massey University, New Zealand. He has written extensively on early modern drama and material culture. His books with Edinburgh University Press include Metadrama and the Informer in Shakespeare and Jonson (2016), Intelligence and Metadrama in the Early Modern Theatre (2018), Reading the Road, from Shakespeare’s Crossways to Bunyan’s Highways (2019), co-edited with Lisa Hopkins, and his last monograph, A History of Crossroads in Early Modern Culture (2022). His latest edited collection Poison on the Early Modern English Stage, co-edited with Kibrina Davey and Lisa Hopkins, was published in 2023.

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