The Laws of War in Shakespeare: International Vs. Internal Armed Conflict

42 Pages Posted: 9 Nov 2009

Date Written: January 1, 1998


International humanitarian law distinguishes between international armed conflict and internal, or non-international, armed conflict and sets forth the rules and obligations of parties to each type of conflict. Throughout history, states have recognized that different rules apply to their behavior in internal conflicts than to actions in international conflicts; indeed, many of the normative principles underlying modern international humanitarian law date back to the Middle Ages and even to classical times. This article examines the distinction between internal and international wars in Shakespeare, and demonstrates that the normative and legal rules in force recognized and highlighted the dichotomy between domestic and foreign conflicts. Throughout Shakespeare’s works, foreign wars differ greatly from domestic conflicts in the formalities observed, the obligations of the parties toward each other, and the actual law imposed in the event of wrongdoing - and the language used demonstrates his understanding of these legal and moral distinctions. This article focuses on three primary areas to showcase the distinction between international and internal armed conflict in Shakespeare: the manifestations of the applicable law, the justifications for starting a war in the international arena versus an internal war, and the different rules governing actions in foreign war and domestic conflict, such as the treatment of opponents and the obligations of the chivalric code.

Keywords: Shakespeare, international humanitarian law, international armed conflict, non-international armed conflict, internal conflict, chivalry, laws of war, Gentili, Suarez, Geneva Conventions, common Article 3, Grotius, Henry V, King John, Richard III, armed conflict

Suggested Citation

Blank, Laurie R., The Laws of War in Shakespeare: International Vs. Internal Armed Conflict (January 1, 1998). New York University Journal of International Law and Politics (JILP), Vol. 30, No. pp. 251-290, Fall 1997/Winter 1998. Available at SSRN:

Laurie R. Blank (Contact Author)

Emory University School of Law ( email )

1301 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA 30322
United States
404-712-1711 (Phone)


Here is the Coronavirus
related research on SSRN

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics