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The Art of Law in Shakespeare

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Holmes, Rachel E 


Shakespeare’s relationship with Law may be well established, but Paul Raffield demonstrates its richness and variety in The Art of Law in Shakespeare. Building on his work in Shakespeare’s Imaginary Constitution: Late Elizabethan Politics and the Theatre of Law (Hart, 2010), Raffield turns his attention in this monograph to the early years of Jacobean rule. In the Introduction, he outlines his central premise, that ‘during the first decade of Jacobean rule, the arts of law and drama developed contiguously, the one aesthetic form learning from and imitating the other’ (p. 9). He consequently sets out his core interests as the exploration of the representation of the legal institution in Shakespeare’s Jacobean plays and the ways in which they thematize ‘the rationale of Jacobean kingship and the (often fractious) relationship between crown and common law’ (p. 11). However, framing the narrative in this way impedes the coherence of the overarching argument and understates the wider scholarly contribution of this book. Underpinning the monograph is continued attention to ‘the correlation between law and nature, and the identification of common law with a higher moral law, inscribed by God in the hearts of men’ (p. 2). Raffield seems, above all, to be interested in the mythologizing of common law’s origins—which is to say the assertion of the primacy of the English secular legal system by way of rhetorically rooting it in classical and Judaeo-Christian histories—as a way of asserting legal authority. Equally important throughout is the question of genealogy and how common law (a system of precedent reliant on history and change) meets, and maintains authority in the face of, cultural challenges such as the professionalization of the legal system, the dangers of treason, legal pluralism and assertions of royal authority, and the expansion of trade and colonialism. This monograph therefore contributes to recent discussions in the field of law and literature and Renaissance Studies more broadly about the transnational in early modern Europe, specifically through its emphasis on the British political and legal desire for dominion.



Law and Literature, Shakespeare

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Oxford University Press (OUP)
European Research Council (617849)