A defence of suicide
William Douglas’ funeral elegy on the Second Earl of Lothian
in The daring muse of the early Stuart funeral elegy
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This chapter explores the suicide of Robert Kerr, Second Earl of Lothian, and the elegiac response to it by William Douglas of Tofts. His long, extraordinary poem is the only English elegy from the period in which a death by suicide is commemorated without correction or judgement. In fact, the poem goes further by offering a defence of suicide based largely upon classical arguments and examples. The poem and its context are rendered all the more complex by the mysteries surrounding Lothian's death: there were rumours that murder, not suicide, was the cause of death, and a few years later two Scottish women were convicted of witchcraft in relationship to it. Furthermore, some suggested that William Douglas was not only the close friend of Lothian but also his wife’s lover. That the poem comes down to us in a single manuscript copy that was in fact edited and added to by Sir James Turner decades later adds further complications to an already sensational situation.


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