This book takes as its starting point a long-standing truism: that slavery did not exist—and could not have existed—in England. It meticulously exposes the tenuousness of this claim by showing how the language and practice of service in early modern England were founded on a deeply entrenched ideology of slavery. The book draws on a large and diverse archive of literary and historical sources: canonical and noncanonical plays, university dramas, print and manuscript poems, translations of Greek and Latin texts, pedagogical treatises, dictionaries, and indenture contracts. Through a careful examination of this material, Urvashi Chakravarty shows that, far from being inimical to slavery, English culture at this crucial point in history strategically managed the porous boundary between service and slavery, and between indenture and bondage, through a familiar set of discursive practices that she aptly terms “fictions of consent.”

Throughout Fictions of Consent Chakravarty argues that for a culture of...

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