“If We Be Conquered”: Legal Nationalism and the France of Shakespeare's English Histories

Bradin Cormack

in A Power to Do Justice

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print February 2008 | ISBN: 9780226116242
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226116259 | DOI:
“If We Be Conquered”: Legal Nationalism and the France of Shakespeare's English Histories

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This chapter addresses the question of English legal nationalism by analyzing England's relation to France in terms of competing accounts of law French, the much-ridiculed professional language of the common law. It argues that legal Normanism can best be understood as the historical and structural internalization of France in English institutional life and, indeed, in the English language. Legal humanists and common lawyers worked to overpower the potentially embarrassing implications of law French for English national law by relating the common law to an exemplary classical past and by remaking the Norman Conquest itself as its own reiteration and reversal in the Anglo-French wars of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The chapter argues that William Shakespeare's English histories draw powerfully on their own metadramatic resources to represent France as a continuous historical presence within England, a shadow jurisdiction to the centralizing royal authority they represent in the person of Hal/Henry V. As these plays argue it, national sovereignty, like the power of the stage itself, emerges as the hypothetical projection of jurisdiction in and through its alternatives.

Keywords: England; France; legal nationalism; law French; common law; Norman Conquest; William Shakespeare; jurisdiction; national sovereignty; plays

Chapter.  19583 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)

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