In the late sixteenth century, the common law experienced a phenomenal growth, both in the number of practitioners and jurisdictional power. A comparison of popular and professional literature on legal administration or judicature reveals the complex and ambivalent cultural response to the “rise” of the common law. Despite the usual praise for the common law as that which distinguished England from France, Italy, and other countries using civil law, many questioned the law’s ability to deliver justice. Popular writing on justice, produced by preachers, moral essayists, and dramatists, centered on the law’s failure to protect the poor, weak, and otherwise marginalized members of society. While popular legal commentators lacked the power to reform legal practices, they attempted to shape the public’s perception of the law and lawyers through the writing of legal character. Authors of assize sermons and character books defined the character of a “good magistrate” as a “loving” father. In contrast, legal writing by lawyers suppressed the language of love and placed the emphasis on reason. This article investigates the resulting friction between professional and popular representations of judges and judicature and examines its impact on Shakespearean drama. In Henry IV, Part 2, Shakespeare explores the dissonance and irresolution within the cultural discourse on legal administration, and in so doing, expresses a tragic truth about the paucity of justice in a world consumed by law.


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pp. 97-123
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