The Comedy of Errors and the Meaning of Contract
SHAKESPEARE’S IMAGINARY CONSTITUTION: LATE ELIZABETHAN POLITICS AND THE THEATRE OF LAW, Forthcoming
Law and Humanities, Vol. 3, No. 2, 2009
37 Pages Posted: 10 Nov 2009 Last revised: 13 Nov 2009
Date Written: November 10, 2009
This article examines the theme of contract and its symbolic connotations of societas or fellowship, in the context of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors and its performance on 28 December at the Gray’s Inn revels of Christmas 1594. Central to the argument is the extraordinary advancement of contract law in Elizabethan England, and in particular the significance of the promise to the status of binding bilateral agreements. In particular, the analysis considers the promotion of assumpsit at the expense of actions for debt in relation to a society (and a legal profession) whose mores were heavily influenced by humanist notions of the individual conscience, which simultaneously bound the subject of law into an ethical association with his fellow citizens and freed him (at least putatively) from the constraints of immutable, ancient law. The Comedy of Errors provides a perceptive critique of a society which is bound together only by the market, having abandoned or mislaid the true bonds of friendship and love, through which a just community may be recognised.
Keywords: Shakespeare, The Comedy of Errors, contract, law, Elizabethan, Gray’s Inn, revels, debt, assumpsit, community
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