Chapter published in:Legal Pragmatics
Edited by Dennis Kurzon and Barbara Kryk-Kastovsky
[Pragmatics & Beyond New Series 288] 2018
► pp. 21–40
Pleading for life
Narrative patterns within legal petitions (Salem, 1692)
While the past decade has seen much scholarship on the legal language of the Salem witchcraft trials in 1692, few studies have been completed on the narrative features of petitions. This study focuses not solely on the formulaic or structural aspects of petitions but introduces and explores various social narratives within them. These social narratives emphasize the petitioner’s family life, religious beliefs and activities, and status in the community. The data consist of 21 petitions presented in 1692 during the height of the crisis (March to December), including both petitions written by individuals accused of witchcraft and those written by other individuals. The three main components – religious, familial, community – of social narratives are analyzed. The study concludes that the intersection between formulaic petitionary language and social narratives that evoke both family and religion dominate in the petitions of 1692. Petitions are used to reframe the accused as participants in a larger social narrative rather than as witches or wizards.
Published online: 26 April 2018
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