Virginia Lee Strain
Legal Reform in English Renaissance Literature
Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2018, 240 pp.
This book investigates rhetorical and representational practices that were used to monitor English law at the turn of the seventeenth century. The late-Elizabethan and early-Jacobean surge in the policies and enforcement of the reformation of manners has been well-documented. What has gone unnoticed, however, is the degree to which the law itself was the focus of reform for legislators, the judiciary, preachers, and writers alike. While the majority of law and literature studies characterize the law as a force of coercion and subjugation, this book instead treats in greater depth the law's own vulnerability, both to corruption and to correction. In readings of Spenser's Faerie Queene, the Gesta Grayorum, Donne's Satyre V, and Shakespeare's Measure for Measure and The Winter's Tale, Strain argues that the terms and techniques of legal reform provided modes of analysis through which legal authorities and literary writers alike imagined and evaluated form and character.
1. 'Perpetuall Reformation' in Book V of The Faerie Queene;
Part I: Perfection;
2. Snaring Statutes and the General Pardon in the Gesta Grayorum;
3. Legal Excess in John Donne's 'Satyre V';
Part II: Execution;
4. The Assize Circuitry of Measure for Measure;
5. The Winter's Tale and the Oracle of the Law;
Virginia Lee Strain is Assistant Professor of English at Loyola University Chicago. She has held fellowships at The Huntington Library, Vanderbilt University, and Washington University in St. Louis. Her articles have appeared in ELH and Literature Compass, and in several essay volumes, including The Oxford Handbook of English Law and Literature, 1500-1700 (OUP, 2017), Shakespeare and Judgment (EUP, 2016), and Taking Exception to the Law (UTP, 2015). Her dissertation won the J. Leeds Barroll Dissertation Prize from the Shakespeare Association of America (2011).