Can the intricacies of Elizabethan Law shed new light on the tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark?
In this fascinating interview with attorney Tom Regnier, we look at how Shakespeare uses the law in the plays and Sonnets, why scholars and lawyers have claimed that Shakespeare had legal training, and — surprisingly — how themes of English law run throughout the play Hamlet. The examination of early modern English law offers unexpected insights into Hamlet’s madness, Ophelia’s breakdown and burial, and the infamously tempestuous relationship between Hamlet and his mother, Queen Gertrude.
In the episode, we hear “the most densely legal passage in Shakespeare,” which is found not in The Merchant of Venice or Measure for Measure but in Hamlet (and even involves a skull!). We look at how the changing laws of England reflect the Medieval mindset as it transitions to a way of viewing the world that is quite familiar to us today. Tom Regnier also addresses the Shakespeare authorship question, and considers some aspects of the Oxfordian/Edward De Vere theory as they touch on the law and Hamlet.
Books and articles for further exploration:
- Kenji Yoshino, A Thousand Times More Fair: What Shakespeare’s Plays Teach Us About Justice
- Daniel Kornstein, Kill All the Lawyers?: Shakespeare’s Legal Appeal
- Nina Green, The Fall of the House of Oxford
- Tom Regnier, Could Shakespeare Think Like a Lawyer?
- Tom Regnier, The Law in Hamlet: Death, Property, and the Pursuit of Justice
- Mark Alexander, Shakespeare’s Knowledge of Law: A Journey through the History of the Argument
- Richard A. Posner, Law and Literature: A Misunderstood Relation
Tom Regnier is an attorney and teacher who currently works in the Appellate Division of the Public Defender’s Office in Miami. He holds law degrees from Columbia Law School in New York and the University of Miami School of Law, both with honors. He has taught at the University of Miami School of Law (including a course on Shakespeare and the Law) and The John Marshall Law School in Chicago. His scholarly articles on the law have appeared in such publications as NYU Journal of Legislation and Public Policy, Santa Clara Law Review, Akron Law Review, and UMKC Law Review. His article on the law in Hamlet appears in the Fall 2011 issue of Brief Chronicles and in the forthcoming Oxfordian edition of Hamlet, edited by Jack Shuttleworth. Tom is President of the Shakespeare Fellowship, and has been active in theatre, performing in seven Shakespeare plays.
His articles on the law, including the law in Shakespeare’s works, can be accessed at https://sites.google.com/site/thomasregnier/.