Nancy E. Wright


Legal records have preserved the names and statements of women who were recusants, Catholics and other nonconformists who did not attend Book of Common Prayer services as statutes required in Tudor and Stuart England. In these records, the recusants' names do not function as authors' names as defined by Michel Foucault. He analyzes an author as a part of a system of procedures used in every society to organize the production and distribution of discourse. An author's name is a means of designating the status of a particular discourse considered worthy of preservation. During recusancy proceedings, the law acted to efface recusants' statements by classifying their speech as illegal and transgressive. Because the recusants were threatened by penalties of fines, imprisonment, and death, it has been assumed that the discourse produced during their prosecutions is a monological expression of juridical and political authority.

The dissociation of the Foucauldian author-function from records of speech that occurred during a presentment or felony trial of a recusant should not turn our attention away from the relation of such an individual to the production and functions of speech in a judicial proceeding. I will argue that, despite the coercion effected by statutes and the protocols of judicial prosecutions, recusants participated in the authoring of dialogic utterances as the practice is understood by Mikhail Bakhtin. In order to study the production of speech as a social phenomenon, Bakhtin evaluates the utterance, the speech act of particular speakers in a specific situation, as the basic unit of a generative process. His concept of the utterance as dialogic acknowledges the relation between self (the speaker) and other (the addressee) in the production or authoring of speech.