May 14, 2009
Vol. 28 No. 16

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    Drama in the court: Breyer, faculty to view law through the Bardís words

    By Sarah Galer
    News Office


    “And do as adversaries do in law, strive mightily but eat and drink as friends.”

    The Taming of the Shrew, Act I, Scene II.

    Shakespeare’s plays are filled with references to the law and legal terminology. Their significance and the insight they give into the Bard have long been deliberated by scholars from author Mark Twain to psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, and now, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.

    The Law School will host Justice Breyer and an impressive list of other experts in law, literature and philosophy to explore this rich interdisciplinary debate at a “Shakespeare and the Law” conference on Friday, May 15 and Saturday, May 16.

    “The Law and Literature movement has made important contributions to scholarship on both law and literature, and Shakespeare is at the heart of what anyone working on law and literature would care about, so bringing people together from literature, law, and philosophy to talk about the legal dimensions in Shakespeare’s plays seemed to us like a great way to promote good new work on law and literature,” said Martha Nussbaum, the Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics in the Law School, Philosophy Department and the Divinity School, and one of the conference organizers.

    The two-day conference will examine Shakespeare’s exploration of legal topics from canon laws and the rule of law, to law enforcement and land law, but also will explore larger themes such as the nature of mercy and the nature of authority.

    The conference is an outgrowth of a successful seminar series taught at the Law School the past two years by Nussbaum; Richard Posner, Judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and Senior Lecturer in Law; and Richard Strier, Frank L. Sulzberger Distinguished Service Professor in English Language & Literature.

    “We thought it was high time to bring in first-rate speakers from law, literature and philosophy to pursue the topic further,” said Nussbaum.

    A highlight of the conference will be the performance of scenes from Hamlet, Measure for Measure and As You Like It, by a group of faculty, alumni and student actors, with Justice Breyer playing the Ghost in Hamlet.

    The conference will open at 10 a.m. Friday, May 15, with a student panel. It will be followed by a panel on “Context and Interpretation,” from 1:15 to 3:45 p.m. in Room V. Scenes from Hamlet, As You Like It and Measure for Measure will be performed from 4 to 5:15 p.m. in the courtroom, and a keynote conversation between Breyer, Posner, Nussbaum and Strier will be from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. in the auditorium. A reception will follow.

    Saturday, May 16 will include a panel on “The Nature of Law” from 9 to 11:30 a.m. in Room V; a second run of the Shakespeare scenes from 11:30 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. in the courtroom; a panel on “Law Enforcement and Fairness,” which will include Diane Wood, Judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and Senior Lecturer in the Law School, and Shakespeare scholar David Bevington, the Phyllis Fay Horton Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in the Humanities and the College, from 12:45 to 3:15 p.m. in Room V; and a panel on “Law, Commerce and Family” from 3:30 to 6 p.m. in Room V.

    No registration is required for the conference, although space is limited. The event is free and open to the public. A detailed conference schedule is available at http://www.law.uchicago.edu/events/index.html?Event=474.