Shakespeare and the Force of Law

March 4, 2010

Law and Art: Ethics, Aesthetics and Justice

The Tate Modern

Tuesday 23 March 2010, 10.00–18.00


Cardiff University’s Professor Richard Wilson will be one of several academics speaking at the Tate Modern symposium:

As the Osprey to the Fish: Shakespeare and the Force of Law

Richard Wilson

I think he’ll be to Rome.
As is the osprey to the fish, who takes it
By sovereignty of nature.
[Coriolanus, 4,7,33-5]

Shakespeare’s plots turn on the tension between justice and positive law which has become a focus for postmodern philosophy thanks to Derrida’s readings of the Weimar thinkers Carl Schmitt and Walter Benjamin. In play after play the dramatist poses the same question as these theorists of ‘the state of emergency’: ‘How to distinguish between the force of law of a legitimate power and the allegedly originary violence that must have established this authority and that could not have authorized itself by any anterior legitimacy?’ [Derrida, ‘The Force of Law’]. This essay will therefore examine Shakespeare’s representation of the successor or post-war regime in a range of plays from A Midsummer Night’s Dream to Hamlet and The Tempest, and consider how this relates to debates in contemporary jurisprudence about the conflict between prerogative and ‘the voice of the recorded law’ [Measure for Measure], ‘the Norman Yoke’ and the rights of ‘Free Born Englishmen’.

There is also a book associated with the symposium published by Routledge-Cavendish. Click here for more information.

Law and Art: Ethics, Aesthetics, Justice

“The contributions to Law and Art address the interaction between law, justice, the ethical and the aesthetic. The exercise of the legal role and the scholarly understanding of legal texts were classically defined as ars iuris – an art of law – which drew on the panoply of humanist disciplines, from philology to fine art. That tradition has fallen by the wayside, particularly in the wake of modernism. But, as this book demonstrates, a consideration of the relationship between law and art can still bring jurisprudence, and particularly critical jurisprudence, to life. In its attention to the inexpressible, art can contribute to the liberation of legal doctrine from its own self-imposed limits. It can inform the ethics of a legal theory that is concerned to address how theoretical abstractions and concrete oppressions overlook the singularity and spontaneity to which art attests. The contributors to this volume – and their engagement with the full range of ‘the arts’ – seek, therefore, to disturb and to supplement conventional accounts of justice: raising the difficulty, but also the promise, of that surplus which art reveals: of life over legal formalisation.”


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