Oxford Historical and Literary Studies - Vol. 1

Oxford Historical and Literary Studies - Vol. 1

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Oxford Historical and Literary Studies - Vol. 1

Oxford Historical and Literary Studies - Vol. 1

Read FREE!

Excerpt

The essay which follows has grown out of a study of a number of Elizabethan pamphlets dealing with rogues and vagabonds, the most important of which are the Conny-catching series of Robert Greene and the Caueat for Commen Cursetors of Thomas Harman. 'Conny-catching' was an Elizabethan slang word for a particular method of cheating at cards, but it came to be used in a general sense for all kinds of tricks by which rogues and sharpers beguiled simple people of their money. Greene passed a large part of his life among the worst company to be found in London. During the two years before his death, moved, as he professed, by repentance, he published the series of Conny-catching pamphlets, exposing the tricks of this wicked crew of sharpers in order that innocent folk might read and take warning. The books are vivid and well written, and they picture an elaborately organized profession of roguery with a language of its own and a large number of well-define methods and traditions. There was a live esprit de corps among the thieves, and a pride in clever and dexterous work which made their profession more of an art than a trade. All this Greene explains in detail. The first question that any reader would ask himself after finishing these very entertaining descriptions of the art of Conny-catching is, How much foundation had they in fact?

Thomas Harman Caueat for Commen Cursetors, which was published about twenty-five years before Greene's pamphlets, describes the habits and tricks of a class of rogues who were much lower in the social scale than Greene's Bohemian friends. These were the vagrants and masterless men who roamed from place to place like modern tramps and gipsies, begging and stealing by turns, and, in the absence of regulation, living a . . .

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