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The Law in Fiction: Shakespeare

By Joe Parsio, Head of Access Services

This is the fourth of five posts in our ‘Law in Fiction’ blog series. Biddle has a wealth of diverse fiction resources that discuss the law, and we have included some of these sources in our blog over the past few weeks

In our last post, we discussed the role that the law plays in the novels of Charles Dickens. The law has been a popular subject in works of literature well before Dickens’ time, for example in the works of William Shakespeare.

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In A Thousand Times More Fair: What Shakespeare's Plays Teach Us About Justiceauthor Kenji Yoshino, Chief Justice Earl Warren Professor of Constitutional Law at the New York University School of Law, explores what makes a fair and just society through Shakespeare's breadth of work. Yoshino uses Shakespeare to address why the rule of law is better than revenge, how much mercy should be shown a wrongdoer, and what do we mean when we "prove" guilt or innocence.

In the book The Law in Shakespeare,  editors Constance Jordan and Karen Cunningham assembled essays by English and law faculty that analyze how Shakespeare’s plays frame legal issues within a literary context. 

In addition to the books mentioned above, Biddle has the plays Measure for Measure  and Merchant of Venice, as well as a copy of Shakespeare's Complete Works.  If you prefer a DVD of Measure for Measure, starring Kate Nelligan, and Merchant of Venice, starring Al Pacino and Jeremy Irons, these movies are also available for circulation. 

For further reading on the law within the Merchant of Venice, check out the following articles: Anita L. Allen and Michael R. Seidl, “Cross-Cultural Commerce in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice”, 10 American University journal of international law and policy 837 (1995); and Kenji Yoshino, “The Lawyer of Belmont”, 9 Yale Journal of Law and the Humanities 183 (1997).

Happy reading!