As You Law it. Negotiating Shakespeare

As You Law It. Negotiating Shakespeare#

9-11 November 2016
Venue: Verona University

Download the final programme(info) (October 20, 2016]

The cultural association AIDEL (Associazione Italiana di Diritto e Letteratura,, which was founded and is presided by Prof. Daniela Carpi is devoted to the study of Law and Literature. This umbrella topic, which was started in the USA about thirty years ago, has now branched out into many more interdisciplinary topics, among which Shakespeare and the Law is one of the most outstanding. AIDEL has as its cultural manifesto the Journal Polemos. A Journal of Law, Literature and Culture, published by DeGruyter twice a year.

The analysis of the legal perspectives in Shakespearean texts has solicited serious scholarly research during the latest years: a conference in Verona and an ensuing volume on this was edited by professor Carpi in 2002, a conference and an ensuing volume edited by professor Gary Watt in Warwick in 2007; a seminar in Paris on “Legal Perspectives on Shakespearean work” in 2014 organized by professor Carpi and professor Jeanne Gaakeer within a larger conference on Shakespeare 450.

The year 2016 is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death: given the strict connection between Shakespeare and Verona, thanks to his two plays Romeo and Juliet and The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Professor Carpi is organizing a large international conference for November 2016.

The project “As you law it. Negotiating Shakespeare. Jurisprudence and Literature” entails the organization of a three days international conference in Verona (Italy), 9-11 November 2016. The conference will be highly interdisciplinary, gathering together scholars from the fields of English literature, Comparative Law, Comparative Studies, Penal Law, Philosophy of Law, Philosophy. It will be a large international group that has been working on law and literature for years, including some of the maximum experts on Shakespeare.

The conference takes place within the framework of AIDEL and is supported by the Department of Foreign Literatures and Languages of the University of Verona.

The Renaissance period is characterised by deep interest in legal problems: the Renaissance scene frequently presents figures of lawyers, generally seen as villains, and scenes of trials. Moreover legal issues such as problems concerning inheritances, contracts and their validity, marriages and property, relationships between children and fathers, voices of power are frequently analysed,. But what particularly struck the imagination of the people of the Renaissance were trials, with their implicit theatricality, their insistence on performance and the disputes between defendants and lawyers, or judges and witnesses. Among the latest critics to stress this connection between theatre and law is Subha Mukherji, who marks the close proximity between “the professional world of theatre and law in the cultural geography of London”. Many English dramatists of the period had studied law at the Inns of Court and could well reproduce some legal debates on the scene.

Shakespeare together with his fellow dramatists was fascinated by law and law permeated Elizabethan everyday life. The general impression one derives from the analysis of many plays by Shakespeare is that of a legal situation in transformation and of a dynamically changing relation between law and society, law and the jurisdiction of Renaissance times. The legal situation does not appear to be a static but a mutable one that tries to cope with the new needs of the age.

“Shakespeare scholars are increasingly interested in the insights that can be gained by studying the laws and legal institutions of Shakespeare’s world “.( B.J.Sokol and Mary Sokol, Shakespeare Law and Marriage, Cambridge University Press, 2003).

Shakespeare provides the kind of literary supplement that can better illustrate the legal texts of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. In other words we will better understand the nature of the early modern constitution if we appreciate Shakespeare’s description of it. There was a strong popular participation in the system of justice and late sixteenth-century playwrights often made use of forensic models of narrative. Uncertainty about legal issues represented a rich potential for causing strong reactions in the public, especially feelings concerning the resistance to tyranny. In his An Apology for Poetry (1580), Sir Philip Sidney proposes an analogy between the poetic language and the legal one: they both use imagination to reach a universal representation of human actions. As the poet moves his audience with the logical and psychological power he possesses, so the legal oratory presents human actions as a prey of hamartia, or wrong judgement.

Just like the playwright, who manipulates the feelings of fear and pity of his spectators, so operates the lawyer, employing the same strategies during trials.

The logical structure of tragic fiction, working to create tragedy’s peculiar psychological pleasure, was seen to correspond to the logical and psychological processes that in the law courts regularly culminate in an equitable judgement. The disposition toward making right judgements, in fact, might even accurately define the shared final aim of both the tragic performance and legal procedure as Aristotle understood them (K. Eden, Poetic and Legal Fiction in the Aristotelian Tradition, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 1986).

The conference aims at highlighting the many legal perspectives and debates emplotted in Shakespearean plays, taking into consideration the many texts that have been produced during the latest years on Shakespeare’s legal aspects.


Daniela Carpi
Professore Ordinario di Letteratura Inglese
Dipartimento di Lingue e Letterature Straniere
Università di Verona
Lungadige Porta Vittoria n.41
37129 Verona, Italy



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