Clamoring for Liberty: Alehouse Noise and the Political Shoemaker
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Sound played a crucial role in plebeian politics in the eighteenth century, with singing, shouting, clapping, and other kinds of acoustic expression conveying a range of meanings. However, historians have mostly neglected the acoustic dimensions of popular political discourse. A fruitful way of examining this issue is by focusing on the figure of the shoemaker, a character who often appears in popular culture as a noisy, irreverent, and vigorous defender of liberty. Scholars have long associated the proverbial political radicalism of shoemakers with occupational qualities such as the sedentary nature of their work. More recently, critical discussion has disclosed how this proclivity for political activity was reinforced by an aggressive masculine identity, productive of misogyny as well as sociability. Drawing on popular cultural sources, from ballads to chapbooks, this essay revises this scholarship by examining the process by which the shoemaker was depicted as the embodiment of artisan liberty, forged in the alehouse through noisy rituals of masculine conviviality. This was in contrast to the growing tendency in polite culture to propagate an ideal of quiet artisan domesticity. Opposing such an image, some radicals deployed the figure of the shoemaker to demonstrate that the ethos of noisy alehouse sociability could further artisan claims to public citizenship. In making this argument, the essay sheds new light on the role of classical republican discourse in plebeian politics, and it also reveals the acoustic aspects of popular radicalism in the late eighteenth century.
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