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Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/1807/29880

Title: Perfecting the Law: Law Reform and Literary Forms in the 1590s and 1600s
Authors: Strain, Virginia
Advisor: Magnusson, Lynne
Department: English
Keywords: Shakespeare
John Donne
Measure for Measure
The Winter's Tale
Gesta Grayorum
Inns of Court
Early Modern Drama
Law reform
Francis Bacon
Nicholas Bacon
Issue Date: 31-Aug-2011
Abstract: This dissertation examines early modern literary engagements with the rhetorical and ethical dimensions of law reform. One of the most important mechanisms of social regulation in late-Elizabethan and early-Jacobean England, law reform was a matter of, first, the “perfection” of the organization and expression of existing laws, legal instruments, and legal processes. However counter-intuitively, these officially-sponsored reforms were calculated to prevent more radical innovations that would generate “inconveniences,” systemic contradictions and uncertainties that threatened the law’s ability to produce just results. Second, law reformers generated a discourse on “execution” that targeted the character of legal representatives. This tradition of character criticism, delivered directly from the Lord Keeper’s mouth or circulated through other legal-political, literary, theatrical, didactic, and religious works, encouraged officers’ conscientious execution of their duties and alerted the English public to the signs of the abuse of authority. Law reform created a distinct critical orientation toward legal and governing activities that was reproduced throughout a system of justice in which an extraordinary number of subjects participated. It was a critical orientation, moreover, that was refracted in literature sensitive to the implications of the socio-political dominance of legal language, traditions, and officers. The principles and practices of law reform—along with the conflicts and anxieties that inspired and sprang from them—were appropriated by amateur and professional writers alike. Close readings reveal that Inns-of-Court revellers, Francis Bacon, John Donne and Shakespeare all engaged deeply with the potential, as well as the ethical and practical limitations, of law reform’s central role in local and national governance. In the Gesta Grayorum and Donne’s “Satyre V,” the reveller and the satiric speaker improvise on legal forms to compensate for the law’s imperfections that threaten the security and prosperity of the English subject. In Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure and The Winter’s Tale, the character of the legal-political officer and reformer is tested as he attempts to put policies and principles into practice.
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/1807/29880
Appears in Collections:Doctoral

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