How does law inform literature and how can the study of literature help us understand law?
The colloquy will start with two classic Greek tragedies, first, The Eumenides by Aeschylus, which depicts the way a society where revenge killings are carried out by family and clan transitions to a society where the state is responsible for the impersonal administration of justice and, second, Sophocles’ Antigone, which explores whether a citizen may be justified in flouting the laws of the state.
We then go on to The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare’s examination of the contrast and interplay between law and equity in a culture strongly influenced by racial and religious biases.
Finally, we consider more recent works of literature like Melville’s Billy Budd, which focuses on how our fears concerning physical security can impinge on the just application of law, and A Jury of Her Peers by Susan Glaspel, which looks at the role unspoken cultural assumptions (e.g., sexual stereotyping) can play in the administration of justice.
The discussion will be wide-ranging in terms of historical eras explored, issues examined, and their relevance to our current situation.
John O’Shea is ideally suited to facilitate this colloquy, having received BA and MA degrees in English Literature, from New York University and a JD degree from St. John’s University School of Law and an LLM (Master of Laws in Trade Regulation and Intellectual Property) from New York University School of Law. Retiring after 35 years of the practice of law, John and his wife now live in their house on Caterpillar Hill in Sedgwick, ME, from June through October, and live in Jupiter, FL for the rest of the year.
Melville, Herman, Billy Budd and the Piazza Tales. Barnes & Noble Classics, Barnes & Noble Books, 2006.
The Internet Classics Archive / Eumenides by Aeschylus
The Internet Classics Archive / Antigone by Sophocles
Merchant of Venice: Entire Play
Glaspell, Susan “A Jury of Her Peers”
Dolin, Kieran, A Critical Introduction to Law and Literature. Cambridge University Press, 2007.
Posner, Richard, Law and Literature. Harvard University Press, 2009.
White, James Boyd, Heracles’ Bow. University of Wisconsin Press 1985.
Ziolkowski, Theodore, The Mirror of Justice. Princeton University Press 2003.
The following files are documents written by the facilitator, John O’Shea, as synopses that will help with each session’s discussion.
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