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Law and Representation in Early Modern Drama

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Subha Mukherji, "Law and Representation in Early Modern Drama" - Free eBooks Download

In all religions in which the dead are judged, noted Jacques Le Goff, the afterlife is modelled on earthly justice. While I was at Berkeley, I was given a Guggenheim Fellowship to pursue a project on how forensic rhetoric — questions of proof and evidence — shaped aspects of the narrative form of English Renaissance drama.

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I found that the participatory nature of the English justice system meant that forensic forms of inquiry into fact and motive were popularly diffused in ways that resonate with the narrative and ideological forms of English drama, whether comedy, history or tragedy. Skip to main content.

English Renaissance theatre

Of particular interest is the relation between Renaissance drama and the body of laws governing marriage, laws that entail problems of forced marriages, of the validity of secret and public marriages, and of the spousal de presenti and de futuro. One of the most famous treatises at the time, Henry Swinburne's A Treatise of Spousals , deals with post-Reformation marriage practices.

Its influence can be felt in many plays of the period, such as Webster's White Devil , Shakespeare's Measure for Measure , and Heywood's A Woman Killed with Kindness ; Romeo and Juliet also includes a serious debate on the validity of two marriages, one between the two lovers secretly celebrated by a priest valid given the sacred celebration and the following consummation, but legally invalid because of the father's lack of consensus, as Juliet is underage , and the intended one with Paris, fostered by the father and by a sort of promotional act through the party and the contract de futuro agreed upon by the parents.


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If in Shylock the ring comes to epitomize "a nexus of transactions and investment projected as an act of donation" 38 , in the play we have two rings: Shylock's, which represents his connection to the past and his love for his dead wife, and Portia's, a [End Page ] symbol of giving and covert reclaiming. While it is true that the ring becomes a symbol of marriage, marriages that entail commercial transactions lead to dubious unions. Mukherji's analysis is particularly innovative concerning the ring, charged as it is with symbolic value both from a legal and an ethical point of view.

But particularly fresh and original is her reading of A Woman Killed with Kindness , where she speaks of the domestication of justice, that is Project MUSE promotes the creation and dissemination of essential humanities and social science resources through collaboration with libraries, publishers, and scholars worldwide.


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