Damnable Practises: Witches, Dangerous Women, and Music in Seventeenth-Century English Broadside Ballads: 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Damnable Practises: Witches, Dangerous Women, and Music in Seventeenth-Century English Broadside Ballads

1st Edition

By Sarah F. Williams


240 pages

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Hardback: 9781472420824
pub: 2015-04-28
eBook (VitalSource) : 9781315575810
pub: 2016-03-09
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Broadside ballads-folio-sized publications containing verse, a tune indication, and woodcut imagery-related cautionary tales, current events, and simplified myth and history to a wide range of social classes across seventeenth century England. Ballads straddled, and destabilized, the categories of public and private performance spaces, the material and the ephemeral, music and text, and oral and written traditions. Sung by balladmongers in the streets and referenced in theatrical works, they were also pasted to the walls of local taverns and domestic spaces. They titillated and entertained, but also educated audiences on morality and gender hierarchies. Although contemporaneous writers published volumes on the early modern controversy over women and the English witch craze, broadside ballads were perhaps more instrumental in disseminating information about dangerous women and their acoustic qualities. Recent scholarship has explored the representations of witchcraft and malfeasance in English street literature; until now, however, the role of music and embodied performance in communicating female transgression has yet to be investigated. Sarah Williams carefully considers the broadside ballad as a dynamic performative work situated in a unique cultural context. Employing techniques drawn from musical analysis, gender studies, performance studies, and the histories of print and theater, she contends that broadside ballads and their music made connections between various degrees of female crime, the supernatural, and cautionary tales for and about women.


"Damnable Practises mines its wide variety of sources well, and makes convincing and valuable arguments about music in broadside ballads."

- Megan E. Palmer, University of California, Santa Barbara, USA

"…there is plenty of food for thought in Williams’s book, which with its emphasis on music’s communicative powers in particular does indeed fill a lacuna in ballad scholarship."

- Penelope Gouk, University of Manchester

"Williams’s expertise in music history brings a new and fruitful dimension to the field of gender and performance studies and opens some interesting areas for further investigation." -- Judith Bonzol, The University of Sydney, Parergon

About the Author

Sarah F. Williams is Associate Professor of Music History at the University of South Carolina School of Music, USA. Her work has appeared in the Journal of Musicological Research, the Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music, and has been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Musicological Society.

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
MUSIC / History & Criticism
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Women's Studies