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Literature and Law

ENGL 066.001

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, 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. 

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. 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, Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson, Chesnutt’s Marrow of Tradition, Glaspell’s “A Jury of Her Peers,” Kafka’s The Trial, and stories from Angela Carter’s Bloody Chambers.  Students will be required to write two papers and two exams.

fulfills requirements
Sector 1: Theory and Poetics of the Standard Major
Sector 5: 19th Century Literature of the Standard Major