Andrew Marvell's ambivalence about justice

Art Kavanagh

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis examines the treatment of the theme of justice in the works, both poetry and prose, of Andrew Marvell and, in a final chapter, the justice of certain aspects of his behaviour. In order to do this, it seeks to locate particular works in the context of contemporary debates or discussions as to ancient rights, the ancient constitution (and competing theories as to the king’s power) and the disagreement between Hugo Grotius and John Selden on the subject of the legal status of the sea and, more generally, the laws of nature and nations. !e discussion of the justice of his behaviour offers a reinterpretation of the Chancery pleadings and other records in a cluster of cases arising after Marvell’s death out of the collapse of a bank in which his friend, Edward Nelthorpe, was a partner. It is argued that these records have, up to now, been misunderstood.
The thesis concludes that Marvell’s work evinces an ambiguity about justice, with the poetry tending to give voice to his scepticism, while the sense that justice might be at least partly achievable is more likely to appear in the prose works. The conclusion as to his actions is also a matter of some ambivalence: while the evidence does not show that he colluded in a fraud on the bank’s creditors, the suspicion that he behaved badly towards his wife is complicated by a lingering uncertainty that he had, in fact, married.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Booth, Roy, Supervisor
Award date1 Oct 2012
Publication statusUnpublished - 2012


  • Andrew Marvell
  • justice
  • equity
  • Chancery
  • Grotius
  • Selden
  • constitutionalism
  • ancient rights

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