Document Type


Publication Date

Summer 2010


Law and drama, Judicial independence, Shakespeare, Measure for Measure, Sir Edward Coke, Inns of Court, Reasoning from literature, Legal reasoning, Legal systems, King James I


Common Law | Entertainment, Arts, and Sports Law | Judges | Legal History


The audiences of early modern English drama were multiple, and they intersected with the legal system in various ways, whether through the cross-pollination of the theaters and the Inns of Court, the representations of the sovereign’s justice performed before him, or the shared evidentiary orientations of jurors and spectators. As this piece written for a symposium on “Reasoning from Literature” contends, Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure addressed to these various audiences the question of whether the King should judge in person. In doing so, it drew on extant political theories suggesting that the King refrain from exposing himself to public censure by condemning criminals and also augured Sir Edward Coke’s subsequent resistance on the basis of the common law to King James I’s assertion of a right to sit in judgment. Rather than choosing between these positions, the play points out the deficiencies inherent in each and leaves its audiences - including both King James I himself and his subjects - to reason from the examples it provides.

Publication Citation

Published in: Yale Journal of Law and the Humanities, vol. 22, no. 2 (Summer 2010).