Skip to Main Content
Taking Exception to the Law

Taking Exception to the Law: Materializing Injustice in Early Modern English Literature

Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 288
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Taking Exception to the Law
    Book Description:

    Taking Exception to the Lawexplores how a range of early modern English writings responded to injustices perpetrated by legal procedures, discourses, and institutions.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-9022-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Performing Arts, Film Studies, History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  5. 1 Law and the Production of Literature: An Introductory Perspective
    (pp. 3-43)

    Recent scholarly work on the interconnections between legal and literary matters has compelled Renaissance studies to view the subfield of early modern Law and Literature as much more than a boutique interdisciplinary jurisdiction, an academic niche of peculiar technical legalese interesting only to law experts and historians.¹ This volume of essays originates from the realization that English Renaissance studies must confront the profound relevance and broad appeal of legal questions to understanding early modern literary activity. Accordingly, the volume’s contributors do not hail from law departments, but – with a single exception – belong to literature departments. This volume then is not...

  6. 2 Paper Justice, Parchment Justice: Shakespeare, Hamlet, and the Life of Legal Documents
    (pp. 44-70)

    In a short scene in Shakespeare’sRichard III, performed just after Richard as Lord Protector has had Hastings executed on charges of witchcraft, a scrivener enters, according to a stage direction in the 1597 Quarto, “with a paper in his hand.”¹ The paper belongs to a group of props that move across act 3 as signs of the political and theatrical process through which a duke transforms himself into a king.² These include the “rotten armour, marvellous ill-favoured” that Richard and Buckingham wear to persuade the Mayor they are in danger (–3), the head of Hastings brought preposterously onto...

  7. 3 Conditional Promises and Legal Instruments in The Merchant of Venice
    (pp. 71-99)

    Promises pervadeThe Merchant of Venice, sometimes to the point of comic absurdity. Throughout the play, characters keep, seek to enforce, or break a variety of oaths, vows, and obligations they have made to others or to themselves, a process that strengthens, strains, or ruptures an array of different bonds – personal, familial, financial, and religious.² Scholars seeking unities behind these disparate promises and their consequences used to invoke a familiar series of binary oppositions: Christian sacrifice versus economic self interest, charity versus usury, unconditional love versus self-love, frugality versus prodigality, the noble values of Belmont versus the mercantile greed of...

  8. 4 The “Snared Subject” and the General Pardon Statute in Late Elizabethan Coterie Literature
    (pp. 100-119)

    As one of the most extensive surviving accounts of Inns of Court revelling, theGesta Grayorum(1688) has inspired a number of studies on the intimate relationship between early modern legal and literary culture.¹ The text documents the elaborate Christmas revels mounted by the members of Gray’s Inn from December 1594 to March 1595, and that involved the coronation of a fictional Prince of Purpoole, processions through London, orations, masques, dances, and other devices. These revels are best known to literary historians for what was almost certainly the first performance ofThe Comedy of Errors.² According to the report in...

  9. 5 The Prison Diaries of Archbishop Laud
    (pp. 120-136)

    William Laud, archbishop of Canterbury since 1633, began his prison diaries in March of 1641, when Parliament had him confined to the Tower on charges of high treason; the last entry is dated 3 January 1645, the day Laud received word that the Lords had passed the bill of attainder sentencing him to death. The diaries, which include a detailed narrative of his 1644 trial, exist in two manuscript versions. In the original diary, Laud wrote each day’s events on one of the facing pages, initially leaving the other page blank; he then used the blank pages to add comments...

  10. 6 Criminal Biography in Early Modern News Pamphlets
    (pp. 137-161)

    While interest in crime pamphlets and other forms of popular news reportage in the early modern period has expanded, the body of work by literary critics and social historians is still in its initial stages.¹ Considerable effort has been expended to categorize this material in generic terms; Sandra Clark, for instance, has emphasized the pervasive “adherence to conservative modes of constructing and interpreting human deviance” in early forms of crime reportage.² For Clark, the narrative structure of crime reportage “ is invariably shaped towards a providential conclusion and the assault on moral and social order contained.”³ Along with this didactic...

  11. 7 Two-Sided Legal Narratives: Slander, Evidence, Proof, and Turnarounds in Much Ado About Nothing
    (pp. 162-178)

    An important part of grammar school teaching in early modern England was based on the rhetoric of Cicero and Quintilian, from whom students learned (in addition to Latin) that there are at least two sides to almost any question. The merits of being able to arguein utramque partem, pounded home early in the schoolchild’s development, was a lesson that remained in place for many who (like lawyers and playwrights) continued to study and live by combining word-crafting with mental agility. This ability to argue different sides of a question was certainly in evidence at the Inns of Court, where...

  12. 8 No Boy Left Behind: Education and Distributive Justice in Early Modern England
    (pp. 179-203)

    When the U.S. Elementary and Secondary School Act of 1965 was revised and reauthorized in 2002 it was also renamed. The new title, “No Child Left Behind,” proclaimed that the bill’s allocation of funds and notorious accountability measures were actions for social justice. Although the legislation was one of the first measures proposed by the administration of George W. Bush, it was co-authored by the late Senator Ted Kennedy, who also supervised its passage in the Senate. We can, of course, detect in the bill’s name that Orwellian tang that characterized so many Bush-era initiatives, but Kennedy’s involvement suggests that...

  13. 9 Warding off Injustice in Book Five of The Faerie Queene
    (pp. 204-224)

    It is a notable feature of Spenser’s Legend of Justice that its hero is educated, in effect, as a ward of Astraea. While this fact has gone unremarked, it figures significantly in Spenser’s conception of a just commonwealth. Developed in the Middle Ages as a means to ensure seamless military service from knights, wardship had become a magnet for criticism by the middle of the sixteenth century, with the Court of Wards and its officers widely assumed to be corrupt.¹ Writers such as Thomas Smith condemned the court for profiteering in the arranging of marriages, but lamented as well, among...

  14. 10 Torture and the Tyrant’s Injustice from Foxe to King Lear
    (pp. 225-257)

    England famously departed from most European nations in failing to embrace judicial torture. As John Langbein has shown, while the Roman-canon law of proof established in Continental Europe demanded a confession for a person to be convicted of a capital felony, English common law granted juries the power to convict on the basis of their members’ judgment of the facts. Since English law did not require a confession, it did not need to resort to torture for convictions, whereas the Continental courts depended on torture to bring the judicial process to a successful close with the confession of the accused....

  15. 11 The Literatures of Toleration and Civil Religion in Post-Revolutionary England
    (pp. 258-280)

    In 1967 the sociologist Robert Bellah published his foundational article “Civil Religion in America.”¹ In this deeply influential essay, Bellah sketched out a non-sectarian pattern of beliefs, rituals, customs, and symbols – a shared public language for the expression of a collective religiosity – which he described as American civil religion. Bellah’s account was intended to remedy two popular but largely antithetical misapprehensions about the function of religion in American public life. On the one hand, he sought to refute the historically dubious proposition that the American republic was fundamentally Christian in character and intention; on the other, he hoped to remedy...

  16. 12 Obnoxious Satan: Milton, Neo-Roman Justice, and the Burden of Grace
    (pp. 281-302)

    In the final essay of his influential 1998 collectionLiberty before Liberalism, Quentin Skinner reflects on his practice as an historian. He thinks of his work, so he says, as that of an archaeologist, a digger unearthing long-forgotten and disused artefacts, bringing them back to the surface, dusting them down, and so enabling us to reconsider what we think of them. In his case, the artefacts are political theories, ideas, or systems of ideas, and what is remarkable about them is their obsolescence: the artefacts that most interest him constitute “a repository of values we no longer endorse, of questions...

  17. Contributors
    (pp. 303-306)
  18. Index
    (pp. 307-315)