Tag Archives: Shakespeare

Research Seminar: Professor Lorna Hutson (University of St Andrews)

‘Circumstantial Shakespeare’

Wednesday 3 June, 2.00 – 3.30 pm
Watson Seminar Room, Kennedy Hall, School of English 

For a joint event between the Centre for Mediaeval and Early Modern Law and Literature and The Early Modern Society, Lorna Hutson, Berry Professor of English at the University of St Andrews, will lead a seminar on her most recent book Circumstantial Shakespeare.


Shakespeare’s characters are thought to be his greatest achievement – imaginatively autonomous, possessed of depth and individuality. This view has survived the deconstruction of ‘Shakespeare as Author’ and has been revitalized by the recent emphasis on the collaborative nature of early modern theatre. But belief in the autonomous imaginative life of Shakespeare’s characters depends on another unexamined myth: the myth that Shakespeare rejected neoclassicism, playing freely with theatrical time and place.  Circumstantial Shakespeare dismantles these myths. Drawing on classical and sixteenth-century rhetorical pedagogy, it reveals the importance of topics of circumstance (Time, Place and Motive, etc.) in the conjuring of compelling narratives and vivid mental images (enargeia). ‘Circumstances’ – which we now think of as incalculable contingencies – were originally topics of forensic inquiry into human intention or passion. Shakespeare used these topics to imply offstage actions, times and places in terms of the motives and desires we attribute to the characters.


‘Introduction’ and chapter 2, ‘Imaginary Work’: Opportunity in Lucrece and in King Lear.

Photocopies of these materials will be available for collection from the School of English Office in Castle House, The Scores from Wednesday 27 May.

Lorna’s interests are in the rhetorical bases of Renaissance literature, and in the relationship between literary form and the formal aspects of non-literary culture. Recent work includes the delivery of the Oxford Wells Shakespeare Lectures, 2012, on ‘Circumstantial Shakespeare’, the editing of Ben Jonson’s Discoveries (1641) for the Cambridge Complete Works of Ben Jonson (2012) and The Invention of Suspicion: Law and Mimesis in Shakespeare and Renaissance Drama (OUP, 2007, pbk 2011), which won the Roland Bainton Prize for Literature in 2008. She is currently working, with Bradin Cormack, on the Oxford Handbook of English Law and Literature, 1500-1700, and directs CMEMLL, the Centre for Mediaeval and Early Modern Law and Literature.


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.


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, reh32@st-andrews.ac.uk, and Toria Johnson, taj3@st-andrews.ac.uk.


Inauguration of the Centre for Mediaeval and Early Modern Law and Literature

Wednesday 3 October, 2012, 2.15-6 pm
Lawson Lecture Room, Kennedy Hall, School of English

Inaugural Lecture: Professor David Ibbetson (University of Cambridge) – ‘Early Modern Lawyers and Literary Texts’

2.15-3.15 pm

David Ibbetson, Regius Professor of Civil Law and President of Clare Hall at the University of Cambridge, will deliver the inaugural CMEMLL annual lecture entitled ‘Early Modern Lawyers and Literary Texts’.

Professor Ibbetson’s notable publications include but are not limited to: The Oxford International Encyclopedia of Legal History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009); ‘Sixteenth Century Contract Law: Slade’s Case in Context,’ in OJLS 3:4 (1984), pp. 295-317; and ‘Assumpsit and Debt in the Early Sixteenth Century,’ in CLJ 41:1 (1982), pp. 142-161.

The lecture will be followed by a break for refreshments in the Stephen Boyd Room before the Panel Response.

Panel Response: Law and Literature, Mediaeval and Early Modern

Professor William I. Miller (University of Michigan)
Professor John Hudson (University of St Andrews)
Professor Lorna Hutson (University of St Andrews)

Chair: Professor Colin Kidd (University of St Andrews)

William Miller, Thomas G. Long Professor of Law at the University of Michigan and Honorary Professor of History at the University of St Andrews, will join the Directors of CMEMLL: John Hudson, Professor of Legal History, and Lorna Hutson, Berry Professor of English Literature, in a panel response to Professor Ibbetson’s paper.  Colin Kidd, Professor of History, will chair the discussion.  They will also discuss the formation and purpose of CMEMLL.

There will be a wine reception to close the event.


Reading Group: Professor Bradin Cormack (University of Chicago)

‘Affective Possession’

Monday 28 May, 2012, 1-2 pm
Stephen Boyd Room, Kennedy Hall, School of English

Bradin Cormack, Professor of English at the University of Chicago and Corresponding Professor of CMEMLL, will lead our fourth CMEMLL reading group, the topic of which is ‘Affective Possession’, and the text is:

Bradin Cormack, ‘Shakespeare Possessed: Legal Affect and the Time of Holding,’ in Shakespeare and the Law ed. Paul Raffield and Gary Watt (Oxford: Hart Publishing, 2008), pp. 83-100.

Professor Cormack is the author of A Power to do Justice: Jurisdiction, English Literature and the Rise of Common Law, 1509-1625 (Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press, 2008), a book which has revealed how intimately English Renaissance authors knew the law, and how well they understood the creative potential of its jurisdictional instability.

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).