Rebecca Lemon

in The Oxford Handbook of Shakespeare

Published in print December 2011 | ISBN: 9780199566105
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks of Literature


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This article examines Shakespeare's spirit of the law, asking what the law is. The first two sections address the variety of law in Shakespeare's England. Law in the early modern period proves capacious and multijurisdictional. The third section turns to Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice to explore this notion of law's sociability, and shows how, even at a moment of firm articulation of ‘stony’ law, the process of invested interpretation remains paramount. Shakespeare repeatedly illuminates law as one among many tools available to secure and occasionally challenge existing social relations. Thus, for an imaginative, humanistic writer such as Shakespeare, the copia of the law provided ingredients for legally themed plays that move far beyond technicalities and proceduralism. The closing section explores this notion of law's social relations in order to suggest potentially new directions for the study of Shakespeare and the law.

Keywords: Shakespeare's England; early modern law; Merchant of Venice; law's sociability; law's social relations

Article.  8981 words. 

Subjects: Literature ; Shakespeare Studies and Criticism

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