Category Archives: Research Lectures

CMEMLL Research Seminar: Jackie Watson (Oxford Spires Academy/Birkbeck)

Tuesday 15 November, 5.45 – 7.00 pm
Gatsby Room, Chancellor’s Centre, Wolfson College, University of Cambridge

‘[T]hough Ramme stinks with cookes and ale,/ Yet say thers many a worthy lawyers chamber,/ Buts vpon Rame-Alley’: An Innsman Goes to the Playhouse’


Combining ideas of early modern sense perception with research on the Inns of Court, London topography and theatre history, this paper is an experimental journey to a performance of Lording Barry’s ‘Ram Alley’ at nearby Whitefriars. It considers the sensory interactions between audience and dramatic locations: playing space, imaginative locus and surrounding city.

This paper brings the two areas of research together, and builds on Jackie Watson’s recent article on the nearby Ram Alley for the Map of Early Modern London. It imagines a day in 1607, or perhaps 1608. An Innsman – call him Francis, for sake of argument – leaves his lodgings in Middle Temple to visit the nearby Whitefriars Theatre, where Lording Barry’s Ram Alley is being performed by the Children of the King’s Revels. Using ideas from performance and theatre history, London topography and audience studies, as well as work on the Inns as sites of social mobility, legal and wider learning, and homosocial networks, my paper will reconstruct likely elements of Francis’ journey and his experience of this particular play.

In the quotation from the Induction to Every Man Out of his Humour which forms the title of this paper, Ben Jonson’s language plays with the conjunction of hearing, tasting and understanding. Barry may not have had such lofty ambitions for his comedy, but in its intertextuality, its precise location and its evocation of the early modern legal world, it aims directly to play with the familiarities and to engage the senses of ‘Francis’ and his fellows.

Organised jointly with the Wolfson College Humanities Society.

Jackie Watson completed her PhD at Birkbeck College, London, in 2015, with a thesis looking at the life of the Jacobean courtier, Sir Thomas Overbury, and examining the representations of courtiership on stage between 1599 and 1613. She is co-editor of The Senses in Early Modern England, 1558–1660 (Manchester University Press, 2015), to which she contributed a chapter on the deceptive nature of sight.

Recent published articles have looked at the early modern Inns of Court, at Innsmen as segments of playhouse audiences and at London topography.  She is currently working on a monograph with a focus on Overbury’s letters, courtiership and the Jacobean playhouse.

CMEMLL Research Lecture: Todd Butler (Washington State)

Tuesday 29 March, 5.15 – 7.00 pm
Lawson Lecture Room, Kennedy Hall, School of English

All welcome.

‘Milton, Deliberative Liberty, and the Law of Spousal Privileges’


Placing John Milton’s divorce tracts within the broader context of both seventeenth-century marriage manuals and modern rules regarding spousal testimony at law, this paper argues that Milton’s particular interest in maintaining the privacy of marital conversation illumines not only the course of legal and familial history but also the fundamental—and potentially flawed—assumptions of contemporary political liberalism. While the arguments of Milton and other seventeenth-century advice writers helped spur courts to exclude spousal testimony on the basis of marital harmony rather than just masculine headship, an examination of modern legal scholarship on spousal privileges also reveals a fundamental tension in Milton’s tracts regarding the expression of self-interest, one that demonstrates the difficulty both Milton and modern theorists such as Jürgen Habermas have in accommodating distinctions of gender within not only early modern marriage but also constructions of the modern liberal subject.

Todd Butler is Associate Professor and Chair at the Faculty of English, Washington State University.

His main area of publication and research involves early modern literature, religion, and political theory, but he maintains an active interest in early modern crime and law, and how classical rhetoric in particular can help us understand—if not challenge—processes of judicial decision-making. His publications include Imagination and Politics in Seventeenth Century England (Ashgate, 2008) and ‘Swearing Justice in Henry Goodcole and the Witch of Edmonton‘ (Studies in English Literature 50:1, 2010).


CMEMLL Annual Report 2014/15

CMEMLL Annual Report 2015/16

We are pleased to share a report of CMEMLL’s activities for the academic year 2014/15 here.

As you can see, we were rather busy last year with three conferences, a regular programme of reading groups and research events, and the inauguration of the new Institute of Legal and Constitutional Research.

We are half-way through our programme for 2015/16 with a great deal to look forward to in second semester.

See the programme of events and the Annual Report for further details.


Research Lecture: Professor Paul Raffield (University of Warwick)

‘Men of Violence, Men of Vision: John Davies and John Marston of the Middle Temple’

Wednesday 11 March, 5.15 pm
Lawson Lecture Room, Kennedy Hall, School of English 

Paul Raffield, Professor of Law at the University of Warwick, will give a paper entitled ‘Men of Violence, Men of Vision: John Davies and John Marston of the Middle Temple’.


In Hilary Term 1598, John Davies entered Middle Temple Hall during commons, concealing a dagger and a ‘bastinado’ under his gown. Davies approached his close friend (and fellow Middle Templar) Richard Martin, with whom he had fallen out, and hit him over the head with the bastinado, so hard apparently that the weapon broke. In this essay, I consider the theme of violence in late Elizabethan England, using the lives and works of Davies and John Marston as a framework within which to examine the causes and effects of violence and rebellion in London and throughout England in the 1590s. I investigate especially the role of early modern lawyers in articulating and restating the classical theory that eternal or moral law was coterminous with natural law, and superior (in the words of Davies) to ‘all the written laws in the worlde’. In the course of the essay, I address the theme of censorship, and the institutional suppression of freedom of expression, in its late-Elizabethan context and with especial reference to the satirical epigrams of Davies. The future Chief Justice of the King’s Bench, was not only one of the most eminent lawyers and jurists of the late-Elizabethan and Jacobean period: he was also one of its most successful poets, the author of Orchestra, or a Poem of DancingHymnes of Astraea; and Nosce Teipsum. I examine the close correlation between law and poetry (and by way of conclusion, through analysis of an early play of John Marston’s, entitled Histrio-Mastix, between law and theatre), concluding that the indivisibility of these aesthetic forms was a salient feature of the early modern legal institution.​ 

Professor Raffield’s research interests include legal history, law and literature, and critical legal studies, and he has published extensively on theatre and the law, with a particular emphasis on Shakespeare. To a considerable degree, his research interests derive from his career as an actor and director, for 25 years prior to his appointment at Warwick. He was the co-organiser of a major international conference on Shakespeare and the Law, hosted by The University of Warwick in 2007: see P. Raffield and G. Watt (eds.), Shakespeare and the Law (Oxford: Hart Publishing, 2008).

His other publications include Images and Cultures of Law in Early Modern England: Justice and Political Power, 1558-1660 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), and his most recent sole-authored monograph, Shakespeare’s Imaginary Constitution: Late-Elizabethan Politics and the Theatre of Law (Oxford: Hart Publishing, 2010). This latter volume was nominated for the 2011 Inner Temple Book Prize, awarded every 3 years for a book which has made a profound contribution to the understanding of law in the United Kingdom.  He is also the founding co-editor of Law and Humanities, published by Hart Journals.


Research Lecture: Professor Bradin Cormack (Princeton University)

‘In the Time of Example: Case Thinking in Shakespearean Drama’

Thursday 15 May, 2014, 3.15 pm
Garden Seminar Room, Kennedy Hall, School of English

Bradin Cormack, Professor of English at Princeton University and Corresponding Professor of CMEMLL, will give a paper entitled ‘In the time of example: case thinking in Shakespearean Drama.’

As Professor Cormack explains:

‘This paper places Shakespeare’s comedies, in particular The Comedy of Errors and The Merchant of Venice, in the double context of case-jurisprudence in the sixteenth-century common law and of exemplarity in sixteenth-century historiographical writing. It suggests that Shakespeare’s comedies are marked microtextually and structurally by the consideration not only of the rhetorical impact of examples but, more basically, of what, logically, the example is such that it might constitute knowledge. I will be considering in particular the question of how examples or cases relate to time, and, in addition to Shakespeare, I will consider some passages in Sidney’s Defense, which is of course notorious for the case it makes for the case.

My talk, which will focus on Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors with some attention to Sidney, will be self-explanatory. If you would like to read something in advance, I suggest Agamben’s essay “What is a Paradigm,” which informs some of the ways in which I am thinking about example.’

Professor Cormack is author of A Power to Do Justice: Jurisdiction, English Literature, and the Rise of Common Law, 1509-1625 (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2007) and of Book Use, Book Theory, co-authored with Carla Mazzio (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Library, 2005).

He is co-editor, with Leonard Barkan and Sean Keilen, of The Forms of Renaissance Thought: New Essays on Literature and Culture (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008) and, with Richard Strier and Martha Nussbaum, of Shakespeare and the Law: A Conversation among the Disciplines and Professions (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2013).

He has published on issues of sovereignty in Shakespeare Quarterly, and he is currently working on two books, a philosophical study of Shakespeare’s sonnets and a short monograph on Shakespeare and Law.