Theaters of Intention: Drama and the Law in Early Modern England

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Stanford University Press, 2000 - Literary Criticism - 362 pages
Early modern Britain witnessed a transformation in legal reasoning about human volition and intentional action, which contributed to new conventions and techniques for the theatrical representation of premeditated conduct. Theaters of Intention examines the relation between law and theater in this period, reading plays by Shakespeare, Jonson, Marlowe, and others to demonstrate how legal understanding of willful human action pervades sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English drama.

Drawing on case law, legal treatises, parliamentary journals, and theatrical account books, the author considers the interplay between theatrical deliberation and legal dramatization of human intention. He analyzes such canonical plays as Hamlet, Timon of Athens, Dr. Faustus, Bartholomew Fair, and Othello alongside less familiar texts, including Barnes's The Devil's Charter, Jonson's Entertainment at Althorp, and the anonymous Nobody and Somebody.

Notable instances of the new theatrical representation of premeditated conduct include the appearance in Hamlet of wording from the sensational case of Hales versus Petit and dramatizations of contract law in enactments of demonic pacts in the plays of Marlowe and Barnes. The final chapter examines the iconography of Nobody, an early modern equivalent of John Doe, and features some dozen illustrations of contemporary woodcuts, drawings, and engravings.

Tied closely to the convergence of authorial and dramatic forethought, theatrical representation of premeditated action demonstrates the close relationships among purposeful human behavior, fictionality, economic exchange, and the experience of time.

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Contents

Hamlet Hales v Petit and the Hysteresis of Action
25
Ben Jonson and the Law of Contract
68
Commodities and Contracts
114
Promissory Performances
165
Contracting Damnation
184
Nobodies That Matter
216
Afterword
263
Bibliography
324
Index
348
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About the author (2000)

Luke Wilson is Associate Professor of English at Ohio State University.

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