Shakespeare is often hailed as the playwright-poet who ushered in modernity, in large part because of his staging of apparently modern concepts of jurisprudence at their moment of inception. In this class, we will re-assess this image of Shakespeare through close readings of five plays (The Merchant of Venice, Measure for Measure, Richard II, Hamlet, and The Winter’s Tale). These plays grapple with legal and philosophical issues as wide-ranging as mercy and equity, the role of law in regulating sexuality, the possibility of rebellion in the face of tyranny, and the animating force of communal justice. But we will ask if, taken together, they constitute a theory of the promise, or limits, of modern law. In tackling this question, this course will be interested centrally in matters of literary and theatrical practice. Attention to, among other things, word play, genre (comedy, tragedy, history romance), performance, and audience will become the means by which we think law with Shakespeare. In doing so, we will also re-think the genesis of modern jurisprudence and ask what it means to consider ourselves modern.
Limited to 30 students. Spring semester. Visiting Professor Elsky