Power to Do Justice: Jurisdiction, English Literature, and the Rise of Common Law, 1509-1625

Power to Do Justice: Jurisdiction, English Literature, and the Rise of Common Law, 1509-1625

by Bradin Cormack
     
 

English law underwent rapid transformation in the sixteenth century, in response to the Reformation and also to heightened litigation and legal professionalization. As the common law became more comprehensive and systematic, the principle of jurisdiction came under particular strain. When the common law engaged with other court systems in England, when it

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Overview

English law underwent rapid transformation in the sixteenth century, in response to the Reformation and also to heightened litigation and legal professionalization. As the common law became more comprehensive and systematic, the principle of jurisdiction came under particular strain. When the common law engaged with other court systems in England, when it encountered territories like Ireland and France, or when it confronted the ocean as a juridical space, the law revealed its qualities of ingenuity and improvisation. In other words, as Bradin Cormack argues, jurisdictional crisis made visible the law’s resemblance to the literary arts.  
A Power to Do Justice
shows how Renaissance writers engaged the practical and conceptual dynamics of jurisdiction, both as a subject for critical investigation and as a frame for articulating literature’s sense of itself. Reassessing the relation between English literature and law from More to Shakespeare, Cormack argues that where literary texts attend to jurisdiction, they dramatize how boundaries and limits are the very precondition of law’s power, even as they clarify the forms of intensification that make literary space a reality.

Tracking cultural responses to Renaissance jurisdictional thinking and legal centralization, A Power to Do Justice makes theoretical, literary-historical, and methodological contributions that set a new standard for law and the humanities and for the cultural history of early modern law and literature.

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Editorial Reviews

H-Net Book Review
In this brilliant book, Brandin Cormack permanently reconfigures our understanding of the early modern literary imagination, showing that it was involved in legal culture to a degree not previously realized. Specifically, he demonstrates that literary works were one of the cultural areas in which new and contested forms of jurisdiction over people and territory were negotiated. . . . This vision of literature and law as mutually constitutive is the study of law and literature at its most fruitful and sophisticated.

— Carla Spivack

Law & History Review
In addition to demonstrating the relevance of literary sources to legal history, Cormack's method shows how literary techniques can uncover what might otherwise be neglected within the historical record.

— Bernadette Meyler

Review of English Studies
A significant book, which will contribute a great deal to our growing understanding of the relationship between law and literature in early modern Britain. . . . It is a painstaking and learned study that has clearly matured over several years and every chapter yields much information for the diligent reader.

— Andrew Hadfield

Journal of British Studies
A fine and formidable book that makes an important cross-disciplinary intervention into early modern literary studies and English legal history. . . . [the author's] insights are striking, and his patient exposition is thorough and persuasive. This is an impressive and illuminating book, generative of exciting new questions; it deserves a wide audiende.

— Elliott Visconsi

James Simpson
“Out goes ahistorical Power, and in comes historically specific Jurisdiction. Thanks to Bradin Cormack’s searching and original study, literary critics have a newly usable instrument of analysis: in his hands the concept of Jurisdiction reveals afresh not only the legal narratives of literary texts, but also the literary practice of those very texts.”
Margreta de Grazia
“There could be no stronger argument for integrating the study of literature and the law than this book. A Power to Do Justice is a magisterial accomplishment: for its formidable scholarship, its conceptual sophistication, and its stunning sensitivity to language, both poetic and prescriptive.”

Janet Halley
“In this learned and legible book, Bradin Cormack shifts our attention from sovereignty and its others, to jurisdiction as the persistently problematic practice of representing and enacting legal authority. He convincingly demonstrates that Elizabethan and Tudor literature was a rich site for working out massively important material shifts in the construction of the legal order. A contribution to critical legal studies to be treasured; a contribution to critical legal history to be emulated; a contribution to our understanding of the relationship between law and literature that —to my complete delight—transcends the parochial terms in which the two fields of interpretive practice have typically encountered one another.”

Lorna Hutson
“In A Power to do Justice, Bradin Cormack brilliantly revises our way of thinking about the relationships between literature, law, and ‘power’ in early modern England. He encourages us to think of law as constituted by jurisdictional boundaries, and shows us how profoundly the poetic fictions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries are engaged in reimagining these boundaries, and all that they make possible. The dialogue between the disciplines isn’t just advanced by Cormack’s thoughtful and generous book: it is taken to a new level of theoretical and historical understanding.”

Peter Goodrich
“This is a work of enormous erudition, enviable rigor, and considerable consequence. A Power to Do Justice offers a new model of law and literature, and it will act as a humanizing presence within jurisprudence for many years to come.”

H-Net Book Review - Carla Spivack
"In this brilliant book, Brandin Cormack permanently reconfigures our understanding of the early modern literary imagination, showing that it was involved in legal culture to a degree not previously realized. Specifically, he demonstrates that literary works were one of the cultural areas in which new and contested forms of jurisdiction over people and territory were negotiated. . . . This vision of literature and law as mutually constitutive is the study of law and literature at its most fruitful and sophisticated."
Law & History Review - Bernadette Meyler
"In addition to demonstrating the relevance of literary sources to legal history, Cormack's method shows how literary techniques can uncover what might otherwise be neglected within the historical record."
Review of English Studies - Andrew Hadfield
"A significant book, which will contribute a great deal to our growing understanding of the relationship between law and literature in early modern Britain. . . . It is a painstaking and learned study that has clearly matured over several years and every chapter yields much information for the diligent reader."
Journal of British Studies - Elliott Visconsi
"A fine and formidable book that makes an important cross-disciplinary intervention into early modern literary studies and English legal history. . . . [The author's] insights are striking, and his patient exposition is thorough and persuasive. This is an impressive and illuminating book, generative of exciting new questions; it deserves a wide audience."

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780226116242
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
Publication date:
01/01/2008
Pages:
424
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.50(d)

Meet the Author

Bradin Cormack is associate professor of English at the University of Chicago and coauthor of Book Use, Book Theory: 1500-1700.

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