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Title: The Fiction of Law in Shakespeare and Spenser
Authors: Evans, William
Advisors: Dolven, Jeff
Contributors: English Department
Subjects: English literature
Issue Date: 2015
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: This dissertation examines the relationship between literary and legal fiction making in the work of William Shakespeare and Edmund Spenser. It argues that by examining the fictionality of the law at every level, from structure to technique, these poets encountered the constitutive boundaries of their own fictions. The dynamic they discovered is that poetry and law are symmetrically and oppositely fictional. Poetry is fictional in being neither true nor false; law is fictional in being both true and false. The dissertation maintains throughout that Shakespeare and Spenser’s engagement with law is not primarily topical, in the sense of an interest in legal plots; nor literary, in the sense of registering figurative or rhetorical patterns in the law; nor legalistic, in the sense of making properly doctrinal arguments. Rather, the encounters with law in these poets’ works are philosophical, in that they search out the nature of law as a form of human making; in the process, they are confronted with the nature, limits, and responsibilities of their own making as poets. The introduction lays out the dissertation’s argument, situates it in the current state of law and literature studies, and offers, as an example of the more sustained readings of Shakespeare and Spenser, a preliminary reading of an Elizabethan lyric by George Gascoigne. Chapter 1 explores the most direct reference to an English common law case in Shakespeare, in the gravedigger scene of Hamlet, and the questions the reference opens up about the place of technical language in legal and poetic fictions. Chapter 2 investigates the legal ideology of suspicion in the 1590 edition of Edmund Spenser’s The Faire Queene, and argues that it is a basic element of the Spenserian dynamics. Chapter 3 focuses on the use of concepts of legal practice and process in Shakespearean comedy, which Shakespeare uses playfully to imagine the disabling of law. Chapter 4 investigates the fiction of corporate personhood in Renaissance culture and in the 1596 edition of The Faerie Queene, demonstrating its centrality to that poem’s increasingly troubled second half.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:English

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