Communal Justice in Shakespeare’s England: Drama, Law, and Emotion
The sixteenth century was a turning point for both law and drama. Relentless professionalization of the common law set off a cascade of lawyerly self-fashioning – resulting in blunt attacks on lay judgment. English playwrights, including Shakespeare, resisted the forces of legal professionalization by casting legal expertise as a detriment to moral feeling. They celebrated the ability of individuals, guided by conscience and working alongside members of their community, to restore justice. Playwrights used the participatory nature of drama to deepen public understanding of and respect for communal justice. In plays such as King Lear and Macbeth, lay people accomplish the work of magistracy: conscience structures legal judgment, neighbourly care shapes the coroner’s inquest, and communal emotions give meaning to confession and repentance.
An original and deeply sourced study of early modern literature and law, Communal Justice in Shakespeare’s England contributes to a growing body of scholarship devoted to the study of how drama creates and sustains community. Penelope Geng brings together a wealth of imaginative and documentary archives – including plays, sermons, conscience literature, Protestant hagiographies, legal manuals, and medieval and early modern chronicles – proving that literature never simply reacts to legal events but always actively invents legal questions, establishes legal expectations, and shapes legal norms.
- World Rights
- Page Count: 280 pages
- Illustrations: 9
- Dimensions: 6.3in x 0.8in x 9.3in
"Communal Justice in Shakespeare’s England is a deeply researched and entirely new account of the connections among law, literature, and early modern drama. Penelope Geng seamlessly weaves together a broader history of legal change with studies of individual plays, including King Lear and Macbeth. She convincingly demonstrates that the early modern playhouse was an affective space where people came together to celebrate communal, neighbourly, and local legal customs and practices over and against the developing systems of legal professionals. This rich and rewarding book is an important milestone in studies of early modern law and literature."
Jessica Winston, Professor and Chair of English and Philosophy, Idaho State University
"In Communal Justice in Shakespeare’s England, Penelope Geng offers a masterclass in the historicized analysis of theatrical representations of popular legalism. Teasing out the complex and ambiguous relationship between the obligation to obey legal authority on the one hand and the duty to participate in legal process on the other, Geng shows that communal justice became a prominent theme in dramatic writing at precisely the same time as legal expertise was being monopolized by a professional cadre of lawyers. This wonderful book both reconstructs the discourses through which early modern English men and women claimed legal authority and political agency for themselves, and explains how and why participatory justice and shared legal responsibility have been such enduring values in Anglo-American culture."
Steve Hindle, W.M. Keck Foundation Director of Research, The Huntington Library
Author InformationPenelope Geng is an assistant professor in the Department of English at Macalester College.
Table of contents
List of Illustrations
Note on Texts
Introduction: A Double Obligation
1. From Assise to the Assize at Home
2. Judicature in Crisis: Henry IV, Part 2
3. Neighbourliness and the Coroner’s Inquest in English Domestic Tragedies
4. Repairing Community: Empathetic Witnessing in Acts and Monuments and King Lear
5. Communal Shaming and the Limitations of Legal Forms: Henry VI, Part 2 and Macbeth
Subjects and Courses