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Law and Literature (Sector IV Humanities and Social Science for the Classes of 2010 and later)

ENGL 066.001
instructor(s):
MW 2-3:30

This course will explore some of the intersections between literature and law. Both shape language worlds that seek to represent, interpret, and criticize the flesh-and-blood world of human interaction. Both rely on storytelling, inherited forms, and styles of voice. Yet despite their similarities (or perhaps because of them), law and literature quite often confront each other with suspicion. Laws have banned books, exiled writers, and chided literary intellectuals for social irresponsibility. Literary works, for their part, often find ambiguity where the law finds certainty, and point to coercion and inequity where the law asserts fairness. We might say there is a sibling rivalry here; US law schools are increasingly offering literature courses, but some legal scholars have dubbed the trend “dangerous.”

In this course we will examine the enduring fascination that law and justice have held for literary writers at the same time we investigate the narrative dimensions of the law. We will investigate the law-making qualities of literature, as writing that recognizes its own artificiality even as it insists on the importance of its forms of artifice. At the same time, we will look closely at the fictionality of the law, as writing that can turn its fictions into enforced realities and bring new order to sites of conflict. Readings will consist of plays, stories, and novels as well as some case law. Possible works include Sophocles’s Antigone, Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, Melville’s Billy Budd, Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson, Chesnutt’s Marrow of Tradition, Glaspell’s “A Jury of Her Peers,” Kafka’s The Trial, Angela Carter’s Bloody Chambers. Students will be required to write 2 papers, two take-home exams, and will participate in a mock trial.