Shakespeare's Staged Trials

32 Pages Posted: 21 Jul 2020

See all articles by John Leubsdorf

John Leubsdorf

Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey - Rutgers Law School

Date Written: June 28, 2020


The trials in Shakespeare’s plays are strange. There are no lawyers or professional judges, there may be no witnesses, and the adjudicator often imposes unusual sanctions such as banishment. Most strikingly, these are almost always fake trials, manipulated by a character toward a predestined result. Two obvious explanations — that trials in Shakespeare’s day were like that, and that trials in the contemporary drama were like that — turn out to be largely incorrect. It is more persuasive to trace the strange features of Shakespeare’s trials to the various dramatic functions they fulfill, yet even this approach does not explain everything. There is one more possible explanation, which can be discovered only by reading the article.

Keywords: Shakespeare, law and literature, trials, Elizabethan drama

Suggested Citation

Leubsdorf, John, Shakespeare's Staged Trials (June 28, 2020). Rutgers Law School Research Paper, Available at SSRN: or

John Leubsdorf (Contact Author)

Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey - Rutgers Law School ( email )

Newark, NJ
United States
973 353-5273 (Phone)

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