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date: 18 June 2019

Abstract and Keywords

Much of the pleasure of Shakespeare’s comedy for early modern audiences derived from its invitation to them to understand the English common law as a law of ‘common reason’ arising from the people in their aggregate. The Comedy of Errors appeals to the audience to construe the ‘errors’ of the law in order to affirm the collective rationality of audiences as law-maker, while The Merchant of Venice’s trial scene affirms the importance of the ideals of common law jurisprudence by showing them abused. And in Measure for Measure’s extended spectacle of judicial authority in Act 5, the audience experiences the importance of the common law as a ‘discoursive’ phenomenon dependent upon the participation of the community for its vitality. Together the plays put audiences into active relation to law as it appeals to them as the common law’s makers.

Keywords: common law, statutory law, civil law, common reason, custom, artificial reason, precedent, jurisprudence, error, authority

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