A Question on Law in Literature

download (4)This week we analyzed some legal issues of “The Merchant of Venice”. Can you give an example of legal issues described in other plays by William Shakespeare? Maybe the play you want to describe became also a movie: in this case, try to comment the movie too (what is the point of view of the director? How faithful to the original written work is the film version? Are the legal issues present or not? Etc.).

See you after Easter: un augurio di una serena Pasqua a tutti!

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22 thoughts on “A Question on Law in Literature

  1. FRANCESCA MAZZINI says:

    OTHELLO
    The tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice, is a play written by William Shakespeare in 1603.
    I choose to talk about this tragedy because it’s similar to The Merchant of Venice. Both of these plays are focused on themes like revenge, racism, love and jealousy.
    The trials written by Shakespeare have a common point: a racial prejudice, which will prevail in the final sentence, also influenced by clichés and stereotypes about social classes.
    There’s an important problem of justice. Othello’s story begins with an anonymous complaint because of the secret marriage between the Moor and Desdemona; then the play carries on with Othello’s trial in front of the Venician Senate and at the end the protagonist takes the law into his own hands, killing his wife accused of betrayal. So there’s a wrong administration of the justice because Othello doesn’t respect the law, he acts on his own inspired by jealousy and revenge. So he kills an innocent person because of Iago’s cruel deceit.
    A lot of directors decide to perform the tragedy of Othello, so we have several movies.
    There’s a great version of Franco Zeffirelli, which is a cinematographic transposition of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera.
    However my favourite movie about Othello and Desdemona is Iago (2009), an Italian film directed by Volfango De Biasi. I like this version very much because it’s really particoular.
    Infact the story is set in modern times (not in the classical period) and there is a change in the characters’ point of view: all the feelings, the scenes are described by Iago, who is usually only the cruel antagonist, instead of Othello.
    In this movie Iago is the protagonist who is always an evil guy, but here he appears more than this, probably for the first time. Situations and thoughts are explained by Iago’ s past: he is a young poor man tired of being unlucky and hopeless, with no chances in his life; the opposite of Othello an handsome, rich and privileged man. Iago is constantly inspired by a sense of revenge and envy.
    I think it’s a new and interesting way to read the play, even if the director doesn’t deal with the legal issues.

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  2. Matthew Banks says:

    Hamlet:
    Focusing on Act I, Scene 2, we can see the situation of the law surrounding marriage in the Shakespearean period. As well it may further be argued that Shakespeare is illustrating his own views.
    In this Scene Hamlet describes Gertrude’s marriage to Claudius as incestuous, but if we view the common cultural practices surrounding this time, marriage between a widow and her brother-in-law was often encouraged.
    Perhaps from Hamlets reaction we can see a reflection of Shakespeare’s own view on this practice; condemning it and going as far as to say it represents an Incestuous act. This statement may further by strengthened by the viewing a significant change in Elizabethan laws to ban such unions as this.

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  3. Alicia Newman says:

    OTHELLO
    Othello is another Shakespearean play that has a minority (a black Moor) as its protagonist. This tragedy, like the ‘Merchant of Venice’, encompasses legal issues. The play has a double temporal streamline, as well as presenting two witchcraft trials, set in different locations. One is put forward against Othello, the other against Desdemona, Othello’s wife. Both of these characters, however, are innocent.

    Othello’s charge is being considered in the Duke’s court in Venice, where he is acquitted of using witchcraft to seduce Desdemona. The court considers the allegations made against Othello in a calm and judicious manner. We could consider this neutral-decision making as representative of the Anglo-American judicial system, where the judge is an impartial arbitrator between the adversarial parties.

    The other venue of the play, which is located in Cyprus is symbolic of an inquisitorial, military court without a due process; Desdemona’s testimony is not considered by Othello at all, he solely relies on Iago’s allegations of her infidelity and condemns her to death. Therefore, we can observe two distinct legal processes, one just and fair of Othello, the other – of Desdemona lacking the rule of law. We can find irony in the play, as Othello denies Desdemona the legal procedures that vindicated him of charge.

    We can also note the role of criminal law in the play; Who is to be held liable for the murder of Desdemona? Is it just Othello? Or could Iago be criminally liable for Desdemona’s death? Legal terminology and references to law can be found throughout the play such as Desdemona’s promise in Act 3 (3.27.28) to present Cassio’s “suit” to Othello: “For thy solicitor shall rather die /Than give thy cause away”. The word ‘solicitor’ is representative of the English legal systems, where lawyers are either ‘solicitors’ or ‘barristers’.

    Reading it from the feminist perspective, one could conclude the law’s biased treatment of women as opposed that of men, which is demonstrated by Desdemona’s death sentence without a trial in comparison to Othello’s fair hearing.
    From a new historical perspective, we may also take into account the political situation of Shakespeare’s time. In a patriarchal society, ruled over by a women (Elizabeth I), much of Shakespeare’s work could be seen as a release for the people of the time in response to the feelings of domination by a woman. In some of Shakespeare’s other plays, women are overcome, such as the wife in ‘Taming of the Shrew’ and the fairy queen in a ‘Midsummer Nights’ Dream’. This case could be reinforced further in Othello, as Othello’s male overrides his lower position as a Moor, and he ‘overcomes’ Desdemona.

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  4. Alessandra D'Urso says:

    Hamlet is a Shakespeare’s play set in seventeenth-century Denmark. The ghost of Hamlet’s father appears to him, asking him to revenge his death. In fact, Claudius, his brother, killed him to become king and after few months he married his wife.
    The thirst for revenge, as in the Merchant of Venice, drives the actions of the protagonist, although Hamlet has an enemy: the doubt, that makes him hesitate continuously. But, compared to the Merchant of Venice, Hamlet is not a “legal play”. It has not trial scenes, no discourses on the purposes of law and punishment and no critique, as such, of the legal system. But a closer look at the play shows that legal issues are integrated into the fabric of the drama at key points: suicide, in relation to ecclesiastical law, and murder are the main legal issues encountered in the drama.
    To Ophelia, in fact, though she had committed suicide, was granted the funeral and this shows the evolution of ecclesiastical law at the time of Shakespeare. In fact, for a long time, the Church had always refused the funeral to those who had committed suicide, although they were mad and thus unaware of the gesture they were doing.
    The other main theme is the murder, used at the beginning of the play, as a means to achieve power and sovereignty and, at the end of the drama, as the characters’ revenge tool.
    Finally, a last observation we can do is about the role and the idea of women in the play. While in the Merchant of Venice the fundamental decision of the trial was entrusted to a woman, Portia (who has been considered a symbol of justice for a long time), in Hamlet we find a high degree of misogyny. Shattered by his mother’s decision to marry Claudius so soon after her husband’s death, Hamlet becomes cynical about women in general, showing a particular obsession with what he perceives to be a connection between female sexuality and moral corruption.

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  5. Ginevra Guacci says:

    Although this play has always been seen as a symbol of love, faith, destiny and loyalty, today I would like to talk about law in Romeo and Juliet. As much as law is always present through Shakesperean’s play, be them either tragedies or commedies, I would like to focus on act III, scene I. Here Mercutio meets Tebaldo and, since they belong to different factions, they already don’t get on well. Moreover, Mercutio is a friend of Romeo, who has just secretley married Juliet, who belongs to Tebaldo’s family, that, as we said before, is advers to Romeo’s once. After a short quarrel between the two, Tebaldo ends up killing Mercutio. Romeo, who had just arrived, gets mad and kills Tybalt.

    Here is the point.

    In that moment comes the Prince and without any trial, even without Romeo’s presence, without any possible defence for him, he comes to a decision which is misdirect by his own personal relation to Capulet family. Indeed, the continuous obstinancy of Lady Capulet, who claims for Romeo’s death penalty, leads the Prince to change the course of the law. As Benvolio (a witness) recollects, the law says that if Tybalt kills Mercutio he has to die, and he died indeed, urges Benvolio. In this way, Romeo has no fault.

    The Prince, who doesn’t accept this interpretation, decides that Romeo is relieved by death penalty but is not completely free. He has to leave the town and ever get back, otherwise he will be put to death.

    Here the themes that Shakespeare touches are emblematic, even if this tragedy is not the one that most symbolizes law in Shakespeare England.

    First of all the presence of some families in town that affect the vision of the law. Furthermore the different application of law according to what position is occupied in the society. And eventually the power of the Prince to mislead the law without any disapproving reaction from anyone.

    For decades there have been many film adaptations. I saw Romeo + Juliet, directed by Baz Luhrmann and performed by Leonardo Di Caprio and Claire Danes. Whereas this movie is settled in a modern “Verona Beach” during the nineties, the script is highly similar to the original play, except for the scenic design and costumes, which were adaptated to nowadays habits.
    There is solely something intresting in the scene of the two lovers’ death, In the movie Juliet wakes up while Romeo is dying, whilst in the original play Romeo is already dead. Probabily the director was inspired by another version of this play, an italian novel.

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  6. Michela Zala says:

    MEASURE FOR MEASURE is a play by William Shakespeare, written in 1603. It is classificated like a comedy, but it is considered a “problem play”, becausese it also contains elements of tragedy.

    The Duke of Vienna, leaving his throne vacant for a short period, and entrusted the reins of government to his “lord deputy,” his vicar, called Angelo. His first act of government is to set an example by condemning to death the young Claudio, guilty of having made mother Juliet before the wedding. Claudio’s sister, Isabella, who is about to enter a convent, rushes to kneel before the Vicar asking for the grace of life for the unfortunate young man. After much prayer, Angelo accept only on condition that she is his prostitute. Isabella pretends to accept, but in reality she will be replaced, in the bed of Angelo, by Mariana, an old girlfriend of the vicar, by these repudiated because she had lost in a shipwreck her dowry. But Angelo, after being with the false Isabella, does not keep the commitment, and indeed demands, the severed head of Claudio. But to Angelo will be delivered a severed head, which, however, does not belong to Claudio, but to another prisoner, died naturally in prison just before. The Duke, in truth, he had never been away from Vienna, and disguised as a friar Ludovico, simultaneously he directed the whole plot to show the dishonesty of Angelo. When, in the last act, the Duke is revealed for what he really is, Angelo will have only the punishment to marry Mariana. Claudio, saved by a miracle, will marry Juliet, and the novice Isabella will only have to throw the veil and to go up to the altar with the Duke.

    The Theme of Mesure of Measure is the temperance of justice with Mercy. Merciful justice is opposed with strict enforcement of the law.
    The character Angelo is divided between what is appearance and reality . His reputation for kindness and justice does not prove true to what the facts show.
    Many figures of the play seem to go wrong, or being too lenient, or too rigid. Too strinct law enforcement leads to forms of dictatorship and injusice.
    Moderation and compassion are necessary qualities of a governator, of which angel is lacking, making it a judge unreliable. Every governator must also take care of human nature and its weaknesses, and show mercy to those who commit the same sins whose own governator are guilty.

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  7. Giulia Loi says:

    In Measure for Measure we can find many legal issues. The story revolves around the Claudio’s death sentence for making pregnant Giulietta, his lover, before they got married.
    Isabella (is about to become a nun), Claudio’s sister, will try to convince Angelo with the use of mercy, to withdraw the sentence.

    “How would you be, If He, which is the top of judgment, should But judge you as you are? O, think on that” (Isabella)

    It is very interisting to see how she is trying to compare an impartial judge to a common sinner. Who could be considered without sin?

    The title of this play is inspired by the Matteo’s Gospel: “Non giudicate per non essere giudicati; perché col giudizio con cui giudicate sarete giudicati, e con la misura con la quale misurate sarete misurati. Perché osservi la pagliuzza nell’occhio del tuo fratello, mentre non ti accorgi della trave che hai nel tuo occhio? O come potrai dire al tuo fratello: permetti che tolga la pagliuzza dal tuo occhio mentre nel tuo occhio c’è la trave? Ipocrita, togli prima la trave dal tuo occhio e poi ci vedrai bene per togliere la pagliuzza dall’occhio del tuo fratello”.

    Isabella: “I have a brother is condemn’d to die: I do beseech you, let it be his fault, And not my brother”
    Angelo: ” the fault and not the actor of it? Why, every fault’s condemn’d ere it be done: Mine were the very cipher of a function,To fine the faults whose fine stands in record, And let go by the actor”.

    At the beginning, Angelo symbolize the strict application of the law.
    The story goes on and we see that Angelo changes is mind: he will save the Claudio’s life, withdrawing the death penality, if Isabella will spend a night with him.

    But this is not mercy, is not equity: it is basically corruption.
    During the story, every character will be revealed as a human being: a sinner, even who seemed the most virtuos (Angelo)

    When the Duke will come back in his real “clothes” (He had left the throne for a short time, to see how others would rule in his absence), he will apply the same penality to Angelo: death. So we have measure for measure, every fact should be judged in the same way for everyone; law should not be applied differently (The art. 3 of our Consistution in fact, tells us to apply the same rules to the same facts).
    We will see an happy ending, but all the time the play makes us thinking about what is right and what is wrong.
    Applying equity or mercy in a judgment nowdays could be interpreted as a tool to mitigate a strict application of the law, taking into account of the circumstances of the case, but also as a discremination for all those ones that, instead, has received the same penality before.
    Maybe we could think about which authority do we have, as sinners (or as potential criminal), to judge other sinners? (even in a lay and modern conception); (we could also think about which power, even as legislator, could or not legitimate us to create “death penality”).
    But the role of law is this one: to have rules that can be applied to a fact, and everyone is equal in front of the law.
    Using this idea of sinners and mercy, we could not have criminals imprisoned. Every one should be released cause the mankind is able to act with sin or in general, with mistakes.

    But Measure for Measure does not know one of our most important rule in our penal system:
    – Cogitationis poenam nemo patitur
    – Art. 42 c.p.: “nessuno può essere punito per un’azione od omissione preveduta dalla legge come reato, se non l’ha commessa con coscienza e volontà”

    Shall the interpretation of the law take into account of the nature of our people?
    A strict application of law may have unjust results if is not tempered by equity.
    But also a “merciful” application of law may have the same result.
    Maybe is the legislator during the creation of the rules that should take into account the nature of the human being, and not the judge.

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  8. Giorgia Castelli says:

    Romeo and Juliet is probably Shakespeare’ s most popular play and it contains some legal issues.
    I want to focus on marriage to underline the differences between this institution in the Italian law and Shakespeare’s one. Nowadays the legal relationship between husband and wife is based on consensus, but in the past it was very common to have an arranged marriage in which the parents chose the husband or wife for their child. In this play there are two weddings, the secret one between Romeo and Juliet, and the arranged marriage between Juliet and Count Paris, which is not celebrated because of the death of the three characters.
    In fact we can see a patriarchal society in which Juliet’s father wants to force his daughter to marry a man, though she has no feeling for him.
    Moreover in this play the two main characters, Romeo and Juliet are teenagers and despite their age, they get married secretly. For the Italian law this is not allowed, the age at which you are legally considered to be an adult and you can get married is eighteen.

    There are some films based on this play of Shakespeare. One of this is ‘’Romeo + Juliet’’, directed by Baz Luhrmann, who sets the story in the modern society of the 90’s. In the film Verona becomes Verona Beach, an imaginary american city; Romeo and Juliet’s families are members of a mafia at war against each other and the swards are replaced with gun.
    The plot is the same but some scenes are modified or cut to make the movie more suitable to modern society.
    In this film the age of the two characters is not revealed and the legal wedding aspects are not analyzed.

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  9. Clemens Daniel Pucher says:

    Love’s Labour’s Lost by William Shakespeare is one of his early comedies written in the mid 1590s. It follows the King of Navarre and three of his friends as they attempt to forswear the company of women for a period of three years of study and fasting, and their subsequent infatuation with the Princess of Aquitaine and three gentlewomen. The king and the three companions signed a contract before this special period. In a first step this contract is only between the king and his three noble friends; in a second step also the subjects of his monarchy should accept this agreement. After a certain period Costard, a farmer is accused because meet his maid Jaquenetta (Scene 2 of the 4th act). In the 4th act 3rd scene the four companions, recognize that they have had all broken their contract.

    The legal issues of this play are nowadays not present, it cannot be the content of a contract, because the rules of this contract might seem beautiful or something else, but this rules have a moral character and moral characters are nowadays not ruled by a contract or by a law. So there is only in a wider sense a connection to present days, maybe to useless rules and laws or to inadequate ones, the play shows that the rules given by the king and his noble companions are broken by themselves. However the topic is to describe a situation with a legal connection in another play of Shakespeare. And in this play there are many of these. The very first one is the scene where Costard is accused because he met his maid. The situation might be a little bit strange; nobody would care about this affair. But as lawyers know ignorance of a rule is not a defence, so it would be important to underline that idea.
    But also the scene after the king and his friends recognized that everybody of them had broken their own law in a film scene it should be emphasized in way that everybody is bound by a contract.

    The legal issues in this play are mixed; the contract as part of the private law on the one hand and on the other hand the public order to accept rules and laws given by a legitimate lawgiver. So I choose this comedy of Shakespeare, to explore legal issues in another field than in private law.

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  10. Veronica Fortino says:

    JULIUS CAESAR

    I want to analyze a specific passage of this Shakespeare’s masterpiece to put in light some elements in common with the legal language. The Mark Antony’s speech is very famous to be a symbol of the ambiguity of the word: the use of some terms, the construction of a sentence and the manner to stress some words can be compared to the technique used by a jurist to support his thesis.
    Mark Antony is holding the eulogy for Julius Caesar, killed by the conspirators, and at the beginning he agrees not to incite the roman people against them; but during the whole speech we notice how his position suffers a subtle evolution, in that for all the time he manages not to make clear his real position. Mark Antony uses the compromise as a tool to hold his speech, he wants to create empathy with people using simple words, to put himself at their same level and to move their feelings; he uses vague adjectives to address Brutus and in the same phrase, if at first it seems that he wants to support Brutus, afterwards he upsets this idea. This manner of catching the attention and weighing up the words’ meaning is typical in the so called “ars oratoria” of a lawyer or of a scholar to convince his audience; sometimes the lawyer cannot reveal the truth or he can but just in part; he has to built his speech paying attention to the formal details rather than to the substantial ones: formality is often used to attack a position irrespective of its substance and many times a minimum formal mistake can break down the whole speech even if its content is valid. Thus, Shakespeare means to stress which are the essential values to come out as a winner in a verbal conflict and these same values can be brought in the legal world: the sentences’ formal construction, analyzing the psychological aspects of the spokesperson and affect his feelings.

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  11. laura manna says:

    JULIUS CAESAR
    Always been one of the best known dramatic texts for his act as a “compendium of illustrious lives”, the Julius Caesar of Shakespeare opens the phase of the tragedies of the order and the reversal of values. And in fact the play tells the most famous conspiracy in history, that organized by conspirators Brutus, Cassius, Casca, Trebonius, Ligarius, Decius, Metellus Cimbro against Caesar who will be killed, bringing as consequence the clash between the armies of the conspirators and the most faithful collaborators of the tyrant, namely Antony, Octavian and Lepidus, then triumvirs and heads of Rome.
    Tragedy of Caesar, then, and with it of the established order, but also tragedy of Brutus and of the ideals of freedom, and with it of a man and an intellectual destroyed by its own virtue.

    In Julius Caesar a political and moral question is raised: should one eliminate a potential tyrant not an actual tyrant who must be deposed, but a political leader who shows signs and traits of nascent tyranny and who must be neutered before he can accede to power and cause the death of thousands?
    Julius Caesar shows us two different kinds of political love in tragic opposition: the love of political institutions and the rule of law, and the love of individual political leaders. In the play, particular personal love, embodied by Antony, triumphs over Brutus love, of more abstract love of liberty and non-domination, because the hearts and minds of the people can only be swayed trough appeal to particulars.
    This is clearly expressed in a well-known set of speeches that appears in William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar to illustrate various aspects of persuasion and that could be so charming for us, young jurists.
    In the play’s most riveting scene, Marcus Brutus and Mark Antony speak before a crowd of Romans, giving their opposite views of the assassination of Caesar. Brutus claims justification for his and his co-conspirators’ act, Antony presents the case for murder by traitors. The basic difference between the funeral speeches of Brutus and Antony is that Brutus, characteristically, appeals to reason and logic, while Antony, characteristically, appeals to emotions.

    Focus on ACT III, SCENE II
    THE FORUM

    BRUTUS
    Be patient till the last.
    Romans, countrymen, and lovers! Hear me for my
    cause, and be silent, that you may hear: believe me
    for mine honour, and have respect to mine honour, that
    you may believe: censure me in your wisdom, and
    awake your senses, that you may the better judge.
    If there be any in this assembly, any dear friend of
    Caesar’s, to him I say, that Brutus’ love to Caesar
    was no less than his. If then that friend demand
    why Brutus rose against Caesar, this is my answer:
    –Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved
    Rome more. Had you rather Caesar were living and
    die all slaves, than that Caesar were dead, to live
    all free men? As Caesar loved me, I weep for him;
    as he was fortunate, I rejoice at it; as he was
    valiant, I honour him: but, as he was ambitious, I
    slew him. There is tears for his love; joy for his
    fortune; honour for his valour; and death for his
    ambition. Who is here so base that would be a
    bondman? If any, speak; for him have I offended.
    Who is here so rude that would not be a Roman? If
    any, speak; for him have I offended. Who is here so
    vile that will not love his country? If any, speak;
    for him have I offended. I pause for a reply.

    ANTONY
    Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
    I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
    The evil that men do lives after them;
    The good is oft interred with their bones;
    So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus
    Hath told you Caesar was ambitious:
    If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
    And grievously hath Caesar answer’d it.
    Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest–
    For Brutus is an honourable man;
    So are they all, all honourable men–
    Come I to speak in Caesar’s funeral.
    He was my friend, faithful and just to me:
    But Brutus says he was ambitious;
    And Brutus is an honourable man.
    He hath brought many captives home to Rome
    Whose ransoms did the general coffers fill:
    Did this in Caesar seem ambitious?
    When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept:
    Ambition should be made of sterner stuff:
    Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
    And Brutus is an honourable man.
    You all did see that on the Lupercal
    I thrice presented him a kingly crown,
    Which he did thrice refuse: was this ambition?
    Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
    And, sure, he is an honourable man.
    I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke,
    But here I am to speak what I do know.
    You all did love him once, not without cause:
    What cause withholds you then, to mourn for him?
    O judgment! Thou art fled to brutish beasts,
    And men have lost their reason. Bear with me;
    My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,
    And I must pause till it come back to me.

    .
    Pointing out their major differences in speech, Brutus was not as lively and emotional while giving speeches like Anthony. The main objective of his speech was to explain the people while he killed Caesar and to convince them. Though his speech was somewhat attractive, he gave too idealistic proofs and really did not sum up any practical proof dealing with reality. On the other counter, Marc Antony is the one who understood the common people and crowd psychology. He uses many tactics to win the support of the crowd and turn them against the conspirators. He was also realistic and gave many real examples supporting his case.
    By examining the way each speakers relates to his audience, crafts his appeals and communicates his central points, the modern reader can learn much about the essential elements of advocacy.
    Antony’s speech suggests however, that effective advocacy need not to be ethical advocacy.
    It must really be so?
    . . .

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  12. ENID CERESA GENET says:

    HAMLET

    Analyzing Hamlet, we find many legal issues that suggest the author was perfectly capable of understanding and appreciating legal subtleties. We’ll see the English law that governs the many homicides in the play in particular Polonius’s death .

    Homicide law in Shakespaere’s time had undergone a transformation since medieval times . Originally medieval law focused only on the legal status of the victim according to the king’s law , while the more modern view focused on the state of mind of the presumed killer .

    The old rule in the medieval system stated that it wasn’t a crime to kill felons who resisted arrest , or burglars who broke into one’s house at night . Because of their actions, these victims were no longer “the kings lawful subjects” hence they were no longer protected by the law and killing them was not considered a crime. However an accidental killing, was usually a crime , because the victim had done nothing to be removed from the law’s protection. Another interesting key-point of medieval homicide law is that whoever killed another person in self-defense during a brawl would be be comdemned , because the other party had not yet committed a crime , so he was still , at the moment of his murder , a king’s lawful subject. A person found to have killed in self-defense could seek and obtain a pardon from the Crown giving in exchange his goods to his majesty for his loss (Statute of Gloucester 1278 ) .

    By Shakespeare ‘s time homicide law undergone many changes and now legal analysis of the killer’s state of mind is more important than the victim’s legal status . With modern law the defendant’s intentions as well as his actions were now judged – This meant that killing in self-defense or by accident were no longer crimes because the killer had no malicious intent. So an insane person was incapable of forming an intention and couldn’t be considered resposible , therefore insanity became a complete defense.

    It is now time to analyse Act 3 Scene 4 , when Polonius dies and in particular comparing the play to another version of the Hamlet .
    Even if the insanity defense hadn’t worked in the killing of Polonius , Hamlet had another defense argument : he stabbed at the tapestry thinking a rat was behind it ( cleverly saying it out loud ) (Act 3.4.27). because the intent to kill a person is necessary for murder , a man who intends to kill a rat but accidentally kills a person instead is not guilty of murder. This rat excuse was not present in the Belleforest version of the Hamlet story in “Histoires Tragiques” : the counselor who evesdrops in Hamlet’s conversation with his mother hides under a quilt , Shakespeare has Polonius , on the other hand , hide behind a tapestry. Under the medieval rule, Polonius would qualify as a lawful subject no matter where he had hidden, and Hamlet would be guilty of the murder. But under the modern rule, Hamlet’s guilt depends on his intent. If he attacked a person who was hiding under a quilt, as in the Belleforest version, it would have been difficult to deny that he knew it was a person underneath the quilt, and not a rat. When Shakespeare places Polonius behind the tapestry where a rat could be climbing behind it, the excuse becomes plausibile. This would not be murder because there was no evil intent. thus, Hamlet was fortified with two legal defenses for killing Polonius: insanity and accident. Neither defense would have saved him under the medieval rules.

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  13. enidceresa says:

    HAMLET

    Analyzing Hamlet, we find many legal issues that suggest the author was perfectly capable of understanding and appreciating legal subtleties. We’ll see the English law that governs the many homicides in the play in particular Polonius’s death .

    Homicide law in Shakespeare’s time had undergone a transformation since medieval times . Originally medieval law focused only on the legal status of the victim according to the king’s law , while the more modern view focused on the state of mind of the presumed killer .

    The old rule in the medieval system stated that it wasn’t a crime to kill felons who resisted arrest , or burglars who broke into one’s house at night . Because of their actions, these victims were no longer “the kings lawful subjects” hence they were no longer protected by the law and killing them was not considered a crime. However an accidental killing, was usually a crime , because the victim had done nothing to be removed from the law’s protection. Another interesting key-point of medieval homicide law is that whoever killed another person in self-defense during a brawl would be be comdemned , because the other party had not yet committed a crime , so he was still , at the moment of his murder , a king’s lawful subject. A person found to have killed in self-defense could seek and obtain a pardon from the Crown giving in exchange his goods to his majesty for his loss (Statute of Gloucester 2178 ) .

    By Shakespeare ‘s time homicide law undergone many changes and now legal analysis of the killer’s state of mind is more important than the victim’s legal status . With modern law the defendant’s intentions as well as his actions were now judged – This meant that killing in self-defense or by accident were no longer crimes because the killer had no malicious intent. So an insane person was incapable of forming an intention and couldn’t be considered resposible , therefore insanity became a complete defense.

    It is now time to analyse Act 3 scene 4 , when Polonius dies and in particular comparing the play to another version of the Hamlet.
    Even if the insanity defense hadn’t worked in the killing of Polonius , Hamlet had another defense argument : he stabbed at the tapestry thinking a rat was behind it ( cleverly saying it out loud ) (3.4.27). because the intent to kill a person is necessary for murder , a man who intends to kill a rat but accidentally kills a person instead is not guilty of murder. This rat excuse was not present in the Belleforest version of the Hamlet story in “Histoires Tragiques” : the counselor who evesdrops in Hamlet’s conversation with his mother hides under a quilt , Shakespeare has Polonius , on the other hand , hide behind a tapestry. Under the medieval rule, Polonius would qualify as a lawful subject no matter where he had hidden, and Hamlet would be guilty of the murder. But under the modern rule, Hamlet’s guilt depends on his intent. If he attacked a person who was hiding under a quilt, as in the Belleforest version, it would have been difficult to deny that he knew it was a person underneath the quilt, and not a rat. When Shakespeare places Polonius behind the tapestry where a rat could be climbing behind it, the excuse becomes plausibile. This would not be murder because there was no evil intent. thus, Hamlet was fortified with two legal defenses for killing Polonius: insanity and accident. Neither defense would have saved him under the medieval rules.

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  14. phoquemoine says:

    HAMLET
    Ophelia’s burial.
    The scene opens with two grave-diggers, a sexton and a common laborer, who dialogue about making a grave for Ophelia. The issue concerns the justice of according her the christian burial.
    The sexton was originally a royal official, whose duty was to secure the property of suicides in forfeiture to the crown. His verdict was that Ophelia, like any other Catholic in good standing with the Church, was entitled to Christian burial, either because her death was accidental or, if wilful, was due to her insanity, then ‘forgivable.’
    The common laborer, impressed by the reasoning of the sexton, states that, if Ophelia had not been of the aristocracy, she would have been excluded from consecrated ground.
    The Church has always distinguished between culpable and inculpable suicides. To the latter class belong the insane, and to them, as to Ophelia, she accords all her sacred rites, as well as burial in consecrated ground; to the former class belong all who in sane mind voluntarily violate God’s mandate against self-slaughter.
    So, according to the ecclesiastical law, the Christian burial of Ofelia makes sense.

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  15. VITTORIA says:

    The intertwined concerns of human law and providential justice figure prominently in Shakespeare’s dramas, regardless of genre, and have elicited considerable critical commentary in the late twentieth century. Legal conflict frequently appears in the comedies, romances, and problem plays, often leading to formal or mock trials of thematic significance. The use and abuse of law also abounds in the histories, and emerges in the tragedies, where the transcendental forces of justice dictate the outcome of human disputes. Overall, the sheer weight and diversity of legal terminology in Shakespeare’s works has resulted in multiple lines of scholarly research on the topic. Commentators have considered allusions to the contractual obligations of marriage in the comedies; to the legalities of property, authority, and succession in the histories; and to the fallibility of worldly judgment in the problem plays and tragedies. This last subject, critics note, has tended to summarize Shakespeare’s principal interest in human law as a flawed reflection of divine justice, which may only be redeemed when tempered with mercy.

    As well as the Merchant of Venice , we can mention these other works: Measure for Measure, among the problem plays, offers a legal framework and, according to John D. Eure (1975), expresses Shakespeare’s statement on the limitations and competence of law. Employing an abstruse edict that invokes the death penalty for fornication, Measure for Measure dramatizes the folly of legal systems that seek to adjudicate human imperfections. The formal trial of Hermione in Act III of The Winter’s Tale represents a similar treatment of the legal motif in Shakespearean drama. David M. Bergeron (1984) argues that the trial highlights the forces of irrationality, jealousy, and caprice that operate in any practical system of laws, and which may align to hinder justice.

    While several of the darker implications of the law raised by the comedies and problem plays are resolved in some fashion within these dramas, Shakespeare’s histories and tragedies offer a more critical vision of worldly justice. The question of legitimate authority and legal succession lie at the heart of most of the histories, which tend to display brutal miscarriages of justice and bold abuses of law. The plays of the Henriad contain numerous examples, as does Richard III, a drama that William C. (1992) claims encapsulates the relationship between law, succession, ritual, and hypocrisy. Carroll examines Richard’s murderous violation of Natural Law in his attempt to win succession to the English throne. Obeying “the form of law” in word but not action, Richard demonstrates the susceptibility of legal authority to betrayal and treachery.

    Critics have also noted that transgressions of Natural Law and their consequences are well-illustrated in the tragedies, principally King Lear. Janet M. Green (1995) views King Lear as both Shakespeare’s recapitulation of the faults of the Jacobean legal system and his evocation of divine justice in the mode of Christian Last Judgment. Similarly, R. S. White (1996) provides a detailed study of the dramatic encounter between Natural Law and the corruption of worldly authority in King Lear. Among the other plays featuring similar themes, Hamlet and Macbeth generally draw the attention of critics interested in the interplay of justice, revenge, and the dynamics of violent political succession.

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  16. Franziska Hertzberg says:

    Law and Literature

    My comment is not on a book from the past, but I just had to think about a case that is a very contemporary issue in Germany at the moment. I hope my deviation is ok.

    There is an ongoing process at the moment in Germany where a journalist, called Jan Böhmermann, wrote a poem about the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. This poem was a so-called “Schmähkritik”, which is a poem insulting the Turkish president and degrading him in a very rude way, not actually speaking about facts. In Germany it is forbidden, but there is a blurred line between what it legal and what illegal. According to him, he wrote the poem to show those boarders and clearly stated, that this poem is against the law, since the content is clearly an offense against the Turkish president. It is very interesting to see, how he uses literature in that poem, even though some might argue that the poem does not really have a literary value, and words to show by an example what is against the law. The question is though, that if just by stating that an act is unlawful and than doing it anyway, does that make it a “lawful” act? In Turkey Böhmermann would have to face an imprisonment, but as he is treated according to German law, this is different. Erdogan filed a complaint against him and the result so far is that several parts of the poem are forbidden now. For me in this case it is interesting to see the interaction between law and literature. The written word was meant as a satire, which is according to the freedom of speech generally legal, but there is apparently also a point where satire and critics become illegal, so that the piece of literature becomes illegal as well. There is also a huge debate about freedom of speech because of this and how secure the fundamental rights in Germany are. I think this whole affair really shows not only political debates but also what we have discussed in class, that law and language really interact and shape and influence each other. Language as a literary piece can have legal consequences and can be especially in the field of journalism a tool show or discover those sensitive areas that may need a clearer clarification. It also shows how literature is still nowadays a mean to provoke, to highlight and criticise systems or persons etc.

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  17. Mathilde Talbot says:

    Measure for Measure
    One of the most relevant plays regarding legal issues can be considered as Measure for Measure. In fact, the story raises questions concerning law and morality. Actually, since the beginning of the play, the notion of law and justice is brought to the front when a character announces in the first act that “Good counselors lack no clients” (1.2.198-99).
    Therefore, by telling us the story of a corrupt deputy, Angelo, who sentences a man, Claudio, to death for the crime of fornication, Shakespeare asks us to consider whether or not morality can or should be legislated. On the one hand, the play warns that men and women don’t necessarily have the right to pass judgment on their fellow human beings. At the same time, Measure for Measure suggests that a person who commits a crime, should be made to pay, by making some sort of restitution or by suffering an amount proportionate with the suffering he or she has caused.
    To make this understandable, Shakespeare seemed to use different characters to represent different means of defining and carrying out justice: for example, the confrontation between the characters of Isabella who was studying to be a sister in a convent, and who beg mercy for her brother, Claudio, and Angelo who harshly condemned Claudio for his actions.

    Finally, Shakespeare wrote a play about the need for a balance between justice and mercy and, Measure for Measure promotes mercy and temperance rather than an “eye for an eye” system of justice.

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  18. Serena Di Domenica says:

    The Comedy of Errors is one of the Shakespeare’s early plays. It tells the story of two twin brothers that, together with their two twin servants, where separated at birth and lived in two different cities, Syracuse and Ephesus. When the twin that lived in Syracuse, Antipholus, arrived to Ephesus with his servant, there were a series of misunderstanding based on mistaken identities. The play starts with the story of a Syracusian merchant, Egeon, which has to face execution when he is discovered in the city. He is punished only because of its origin, (and this is the reason why he can be considered a forerun of Shylock in the Merchant of Venice), because between Syracuse and Ephesus there was discord and the law forbade merchants from Syracuse to enter Ephesus. At the beginning, the merchant Egeon does not want to defend himself, but Solinus, the Duke of Ephesus, incites him to do that: “Well Siracusian; say in briefe the cause. Why thou departedst from thy natiue home? And for what cause thou cam’st to Ephesus”. The duke wants Egeon to respect procedures: for him, it is important to give the chance to the accused to explain himself, before communicating him the only way to escape the condemn, by paying a fine of a thousand marks. Egeon, pleasing him, tells his story to the duke, with a speech that follows the rules of the “classic” oration. This is made of three parts, the “exordium”, the “narration” and finally the “peroration” and is a technique used by Shakespeare also in the Othello and the Julius Caesar. The Duke is moved by this story, and grants Egeon one day to pay his fine. In the end of the play, because of events linked to the two pair of twins, he will pardon the merchant, but the happy ending, seems to say the play, can be considered an exception in those kind of trials. Shakespeare depicts two spheres of law very different from each other: penal law, which persecutes the weakest in the society and commercial law, that consider all people equal in the transactions. The merchant arrived in the city because he trusted in the power of commercial law, but risked his life.this play is based on a process, but it conteines many legal themes: the theme of error and also the conflict between citizen and alien, as we saw also in The Merchant of Venice. The play has been adapted for opera, stage, screen and musical theatre. For instance, the film Big Business is a modern take on A Comedy of Errors, with female twins instead of male and Indian cinema has made six films based on the play.

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  19. Alessandro C. says:

    I will analyse Romeo and Juliet, by Shakespeare ( 1596 ).

    This tragedy is about the feud of two families, Montecchi’s and Capuleti’s. Romeo wants to marry Juliet, but the two families hate each other, they’re on fight and they don’t want for their sons to contract this marriage. Jumping until the end of the tragedy, Romeo and Juliet study a plan to “disappear”, to pretend a death, but this whole plan turns on the two guys, until it gets themselves killed. Now let’s analyse the main wire: the marriage. Romeo and Juliet were both minor. They wanted, they claimed to get married, but they’re 16 and 14 years old.

    This whole pattern can perfectly fit into the Italian system, in which it is easy to delineate a profile of the subject, as treated by the Civil Code.

    We can quote, at first, the article 84, from the Italian Civil Code:

    “I minori di età non possono contrarre matrimonio.
    Il tribunale, su istanza dell’interessato, accertata la sua maturità psico-fisica e la fondatezza delle ragioni addotte, sentito il pubblico ministero, i genitori o il tutore , può con decreto emesso in camera di consiglio ammettere per gravi motivi al matrimonio chi abbia compiuto i sedici anni.
    Il decreto è comunicato al pubblico ministero, agli sposi, ai genitori e al tutore.
    Contro il decreto può essere proposto reclamo, con ricorso alla corte d’appello, nel termine perentorio di dieci giorni dalla comunicazione.
    La corte d’appello decide con ordinanza non impugnabile, emessa in camera di consiglio.
    Il decreto acquista efficacia quando è decorso il termine previsto nel quarto comma, senza che sia stato proposto reclamo.”

    Then, we can link this article, with 3 other articles, which are the 90, 165 and 183, c.c. ,to get a clearer vision.

    I will quote them down here.

    Art. 90, c.c. : “Con il decreto di cui all’articolo 84 il tribunale o la corte d’appello nominano, se le circostanze lo esigono, un curatore speciale che assista il minore nella stipulazione delle convenzioni matrimoniali.”

    Art. 165, c.c. : “Il minore ammesso a contrarre matrimonio è pure capace di prestare il consenso per tutte le relative convenzioni matrimoniali , le quali sono valide se egli è assistito dai genitori esercenti la responsabilità genitoriale su di lui o dal tutore o dal curatore speciale nominato a norma dell’articolo 90.”

    Art. 183, c.c. : “Se uno dei coniugi è minore o non può amministrare ovvero se ha male amministrato, l’altro coniuge può chiedere al giudice di escluderlo dall’amministrazione.
Il coniuge privato dell’amministrazione può chiedere al giudice di esservi reintegrato, se sono venuti meno i motivi che hanno determinato l’esclusione.
La esclusione opera di diritto riguardo al coniuge interdetto e permane sino a quando non sia cessato lo stato di interdizione.”

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  20. Sevina Metodieva says:

    Julius Caesar is a tragedy, written by Shakespeare in 1601. This whole tragedy rounds around Caesar’s murder ( we even hear, nowadays, about “Caesaricide”, as “Caesar’s homicide” ) and Marco Antonio’s speech at his funeral.

    The facts we know from history are Caesar were murdered at the Ides of March, in 44 b.C., during a session of the Roman Senate. To this conspiracy, the parties were more than 60 people, among which there were Cassius, Brutus and Trebonius, one among the best generals Caesar had under his lead. The plotters brought some boxes filled up with weapons inside the Senate itself, pretending they were full of documents. The day of the Ides of March, Caesar did not feel that good, so he went to Marco Antonio to cancel the session. Then, the plotters sent Decimus Brutus to urge Caesar to show himself up because the other senators were already there, awaiting for him to show up in Senate. To cancel the session would have meant to offend the judges, they said. Caesar believed Decimus Brutus, his loyal friend and, even, a party of his own very testament.

    Caesar, once inside the Roman Senate, saw the daggers coming up from everywhere, so he covered his own head with the gown and, with the help of his left hand, he word it up until his feet. He wanted death to catch him up covered with dignity.

    Now let’s try to transpose it to what would have happened nowadays in a trial.

    Referring to our Italian Penal Code, the articles we should analyse are: 575, 110, 112, 114.

    Art. 575, p.c. : Chiunque cagiona la morte di un uomo è punito con la reclusione non inferiore ad anni ventuno.

    I wrote we are talking about more than one murderer, we are talking about many people concurring to the same crime, so we should take under analysis the article 110, p.c. .

    Art. 110, p.c. : Quando più persone concorrono nel medesimo reato, ciascuna di esse soggiace alla pena per questo stabilita, salve le disposizioni degli articoli seguenti.

    Last, but not least, let’s give a look to the “how” we can get the punishment increased or decreased, basing on the Italian Law. We can refer to the articles 112 and 114 of the Penal Code.

    Art. 112, p.c. : La pena da infliggere per il reato commesso è aumentata:

    1) se il numero delle persone, che sono concorse nel reato, è di cinque o più, salvo che la legge disponga altrimenti;

    2) per chi, anche fuori dei casi preveduti dai due numeri seguenti, ha promosso od organizzato la cooperazione nel reato, ovvero diretto l’attività delle persone che sono concorse nel reato medesimo;

    3) per chi, nell’esercizio della sua autorità, direzione o vigilanza, ha determinato a commettere il reato persone ad esso soggette;

    4) per chi, fuori del caso preveduto dall’articolo 111, ha determinato a commettere il reato un minore di anni diciotto o una persona in stato di infermità o di deficienza psichica, ovvero si è comunque avvalso degli stessi o con gli stessi ha partecipato nella commissione di un delitto per il quale è previsto l’arresto in flagranza.

    Art. 114, p.c. : Il giudice, qualora ritenga che l’opera prestata da talune delle persone che sono concorse nel reato a norma degli articoli 110 e 113 abbia avuto minima importanza nella preparazione o nell’esecuzione del reato, può diminuire la pena.

    Tale disposizione non si applica nei casi indicati nell’articolo 112.

    La pena può altresì essere diminuita per chi è stato determinato a commettere il reato o a cooperare nel reato, quando concorrono le condizioni stabilite nei numeri 3 e 4 del primo comma e nel terzo comma dell’articolo 112.

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