Justice, Women, and Power in English Renaissance Drama

Justice, Women, and Power in English Renaissance Drama

Justice, Women, and Power in English Renaissance Drama

Justice, Women, and Power in English Renaissance Drama


Justice, Women, and Power in English Reniassance Drama is a collection of essays that explores the relationship of gender and justice as represented in English Renaissance drama. Many of the essays are concerned with interrogating the ways that women relied upon and/or reacted to the legal (and overarching political) systems in early modern England. Other essays examine issues involving the role of narrative, evidence, and gendered expectations about justice in the plays of this time period. An implicit concern of these essays is whether women were empowered or dis-empowered in this interaction with the legal/political system.


Andrew Majeske and Emily Detmer-Goebel


THE CONCEPT OF JUSTICE UNDERGOES AN AMAZING TRANSFORMATION over the course of the sixteenth century, especially in northern Europe. Charting the progress of this transformation is, however, surprisingly difficult, especially if one were to look only at sixteenthcentury legal and political treatises or what pass for such. From these it would appear that little or no change was taking place during this time period. The dramatic shift towards a more positivistic view of law and justice is more a seventeenth-century phenomenon, and is visible especially in the works of Francis Bacon, Hugo Grotius, and later, Thomas Hobbes. This contemporary lack of recognition of change is in itself noteworthy—was it reasonable to continue believing that the conception of justice could remain constant when so much else was in flux as a result of events and developments such as the dissemination of Machiavelli’s political works, the outbreak of the Reformation, and the rise of the new science and its method?

Whatever the answer to this question, the lack of sixteenth-century recognition of change by supposed experts on the subject of justice presents tremendous difficulty for contemporary scholars trying to assess the shifting meaning of the concept of justice in the era. If in fact the concept was changing, how do we “document” the change? One rather obvious answer is that we need to expand our examination of sixteenth-century documents to include documents that reflect justice in action. Reports of particular legal cases would seem to be a good source, but these tend to be constrained by their unique facts and circumstances. Consequently, actual legal cases will be very slow to reflect changes to a theoretical construct like justice. Instead we must look to dramatic representation of justice evident in representational art and drama, where visual and verbal pictures . . .

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