Conference: Bonds, Lies, and Circumstances

Bonds, Lies, and Circumstances: Discourses of Truth-telling in the Renaissance

An International and Interdisciplinary Conference

21 – 23 March, 2013, School of English, University of St Andrews

Download conference poster

Confirmed keynote speakers:

Professor John Kerrigan (University of Cambridge)
Professor Andrew Hadfield (University of Sussex)
Professor Lorna Hutson (University of St Andrews)

Can we say that truth has ‘no more faces than one’? Montaigne implies that human relationships with truth are straightforward, whereas our attitudes towards falsehood are complicated by its multiplicity. But how stable is the notion of ‘truth’? Does truth – like falsehood – appear in many forms, and if so, can we ever take it at face value?

Legal, emotional, and spiritual concerns — all vital to truth-telling discourses — are intimately bound in the Renaissance. This conference offers a forum for the exploration of their intersections. The study of legal culture has become increasingly central to the analysis of early modern literary texts, and legal paradigms are inescapable when scholars turn their attention, as many have recently done, to the equivocal power of language to bind people together. We find the legal value of such bonds – in the form of oaths, promises and contracts – going hand in hand with interpersonal relationships and their emotional and spiritual dimensions.

Our objective is to foster debate about the marriage between two clearly connected fields: Law and Literature; and the study of early modern emotion. How do these fields work together? We form bonds; we tell lies; we search for and construct truths: but under what circumstances?

This conference will explore:

  • The connections between law, emotion, and obligation, and how the works of Shakespeare and his contemporaries engage with these dynamics.
  • The formation and evaluation of bonds in the early modern world.
  • How public/private spaces affect attitudes towards truth-telling.
  • The relationship between faith, truth, and honesty in the Renaissance.
  • How belief and trust are generated.
  • The binding power of language and rhetoric.
  • Transmissions of knowledge, belief, and emotion.


Modern Humanities Research Association
Society for Renaissance Studies
Centre for Mediaeval and Early Modern Law and Literature
Medieval and Renaissance Research Group, School of English, University of St Andrews

General questions can be directed to the conference organizers – Rachel E. Holmes,, and Toria Johnson,


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