ENGL 324 Imagining Law and Justice in Renaissance Literature


In this class, we will read literature that considers the complex relationship between law, justice, and the imagination. Renaissance writers often turned to the law for inspiration. They dramatized court trials, mocked self-important lawyers, and proposed binding contracts between themselves and their audience. When reading their works, we will ask two related questions: (1) how does the law become an imaginative resource for these writers, and (2) how do literary depictions of law reflect on some of the law’s most difficult philosophical quandaries? We will focus, for example, on how debates about definitions of personhood in the law helped authors develop the notion of literary characters. But we will also discover together what literature shows us about, among other things, the law’s purpose and limitations, its troubled relationship to justice, and, finally, its role in early colonial conquest and expansion. In other words, we will consider how literature offers powerful insight into law, as well as how the law itself is an imaginative, fictive, and even poetic realm. Authors may include: Thomas More, Edmund Spenser, Anne Clifford, and Margaret Cavendish, as well as short essays on the meanings of the law by both Renaissance and modern legal thinkers.

Prerequisite: Any 200-level literature course or permission of the instructor