Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Literature and the Law: The Trial in English and American Literature cancelled

ENGL 102.401
MWF 11-12


 This is a new General Requirement course dedicated to the study of literary depictions of legal trials. Such accounts have existed for several millennia. The first famous literary trial, in the Dialogues of Plato, is the story of the trial of Socrates. We find literary descriptions of legal trials throughout the ancient classical world, the middle ages, and the European Renaissance. The greatest number of literary works embodying legal trials dates from the last two centuries, but literature about trials does not always focus on a courtroom. Civil procedures, the gathering of evidence, forensics, detective work, police procedures, methods of interrogation and pre-trial maneuvers like hearings and depositions have all captured the imagination of the authors of novels, plays, essays, and screenplays.

In English 102, we will read a wide variety of such literature, starting with Plato. Most legal trials deal with criminal justice, and we will study some of them: Twain's Pudd'nhead Wilson, Wright's Native Son, Faulkner's Intruder in the Dust, Camus's The Stranger, Wouk's The Caine Mutiny, Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, and Cozzens's The Just and the Unjust. Some deal with civil justice, including The Merchant of Venice, the play of Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, Inherit the Wind, and Jonathan Harr's A Civil Action. Finally, other literary trials mock real justice or civil procedures, like Gulliver's Travels, Kafka's The Trial, and Koestler's Darkness at Noon.

This course is intended for students interested in the law as well as in literature.


fulfills requirements