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Legal Reform in English Renaissance Literature$
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Virginia Lee Strain

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781474416290

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474416290.001.0001

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The Winter’s Tale and the Oracle of the Law

The Winter’s Tale and the Oracle of the Law

(p.171) Chapter 5 The Winter’s Tale and the Oracle of the Law
Legal Reform in English Renaissance Literature

Virginia Lee Strain

Edinburgh University Press

This last chapter shifts focus from the representation of local governance to the representation of national law and politics in another Shakespeare play. While the reform of justice in Measure for Measure results from the Provost and Duke’s labour-intensive and improvisational interventions in the lives of subjects and in the legal process, justice in The Winter’s Tale is restored through the more careful observance of the boundaries between legal and political power. Chapter 5 examines the character of the ‘oracle of the law’ within legal and literary writings contemporaneous with The Winter’s Tale. The legal-political connotations of ‘oracle’ facilitate a new reading of play, in which Apollo’s supernatural oracle evokes human judicial figures. While Apollo’s oracle makes only a brief appearance in the trial scene, nevertheless its influence pulses throughout the play via its representatives, Camillo and Paulina, whose strategies and counsel ultimately ensure that the oracular prophecy is fulfilled. Through these human oracles, as well, the play is infused with the explosive tensions between the sovereign and the judiciary in early seventeenth-century England, through which the King’s prerogative and the jurisdictions of courts came into question.

Keywords:   Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale, Edward Coke, James I

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