This course will begin with an analysis of the social, political and, most importantly, religious framework of the Elizabethan world into which Shakespeare was born, and the development of English common law from its earliest origins in medieval times. We’ll analyze the relationship of a number of Shakespeare’s early history plays to the Elizabethan concept of law and social order, and consider several plays to see how Shakespeare used the law and legal principles in those works. Among the questions to be examined are how faithful was he to the law as he understood it? What dramatic licenses did he take? What did his use of the law tell us about Shakespeare the playwright and the dramatist? We’ll also take up the “Famous Authorship Question.” Was William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon the author of the plays, or not? We will examine the evidence and in the last class reach a fair and just conclusion as to who was the real author – or maybe simply determine that it really does not matter at all.

Suggested Reading: A course packet provided at the first class will provide the trial scenes of the plays being shown on the screen so that you can follow along.

Philip R. McKnight, Esq., J.D., University of Chicago Law School; trial and appellate attorney practicing in New York, Connecticut and Europe; Adjunct Professor, Williams College and Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, teaches environmental law and history; frequent OLLI lecturer on environmental law, Shakespeare and the law, and the role of the law in American democracy


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OLLI: the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Berkshire Community College
Partners in education with Williams College, Bard College at Simon's Rock and the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts

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