Power Politics and the Rule of Law: Shakespeare's First Historical Tetralogy and Law's ‘Foundations’

30 Pages Posted: 17 Mar 2009 Last revised: 18 Jan 2016

See all articles by Eric Heinze

Eric Heinze

Queen Mary University of London, School of Law

Date Written: Spring 2009

Abstract

Legal scholars’ interest in Shakespeare has often focused on conventional legal rules and procedures, such as those of The Merchant of Venice or Measure for Measure. Those plays certainly reveal systemic injustice, but within stable, prosperous societies, which enjoy a generally well-functioning legal order. In contrast, Shakespeare's first historical tetralogy explores the conditions for the very possibility of a legal system, in terms not unlike those described by Hobbes a half-century later. The first tetralogy's deeply collapsed, quasi-anarchic society lacks any functioning legal regime. Its power politics are not, as in many of Shakespeare's other plays, merely latent, lurking beneath the patina of an otherwise functioning legal order. They pervade all of society. Dissenting from a long critical tradition, this article suggests that the figure of Henry VI does not merely represent antiquated medievalism or inept rule. Through Henry's constant recourse to legal process, arbitration and anti-militarism, the first tetralogy goes beyond questions about how to establish a functioning legal order. It examines the possibility, and meaning, of a just one.

Suggested Citation

Heinze, Eric, Power Politics and the Rule of Law: Shakespeare's First Historical Tetralogy and Law's ‘Foundations’ (Spring 2009). Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, Vol. 29, Issue 1, pp. 139-168, 2009. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1359515 or http://dx.doi.org/gqp003

Eric Heinze (Contact Author)

Queen Mary University of London, School of Law ( email )

67-69 Lincoln’s Inn Fields
London, WC2A 3JB
United Kingdom

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