Law and Literature Weekend Seminar: Shakespeare's King's Lear October 14 - 15, 2016

In its unparalleled run of 23 years, the Alumni College's Law and Literature Weekend Seminar has relied on a highly effective model: gathering professors and participants to study a single work of literature from legal, ethical, and literary perspectives. The results can be exhilarating. Each fall, the School of Law chooses a compelling text, assembles a team of professors, invites participants to Lexington, and clears the way for a unique sharing of ideas and responses.

The 2016 program will focus on William Shakespeare's King Lear. We all know that Shakespeare is the greatest playwright in the English language. But Shakespeare's powerful intellect also places him among our most profound thinkers on issues of justice, law, punishment, and history. The figure of the old King, clinging to power, longing for loyalty and affection, then driven mad by betrayal, cruelty, and the inexorable passage of time, stands in our literature as a signal statement for the fate of man. Is Lear, as he professes, more sinned against than sinning? Or does his suffering reveal a just recompense for a life of power, authority, and autocratic rule? And how does this play reflect the moral and political stresses of Shakespeare's own time and place? In 1605-06, the year of Lear's composition, Shakespeare's beloved Queen Elizabeth had recently died, and King James had taken the throne. Religious tension between Protestants and Catholics wracked the kingdom; an assassination attempt on James was narrowly avoided in the very year of the play's production. In the midst of growing turmoil, King James, like King Lear, suddenly found himself surrounded by advisors, counselors with conflicting motivations. Such tensions and stratagems doubtlessly influenced Shakespeare's meditation on kingship and government. In such classic characters as the wise Fool, the loyal Kent, the conniving and treacherous Edmund, and the loving daughter Cordelia, Shakespeare embodies on the stage the most profound issues of his time and
indeed of our own time as well.

Teaching in the program will be law professors Brian Murchison and Bob Danforth, English professor Marc Conner, Dave Caudill from Villanova University School of Law, and Ralph Cohen from the American Shakespeare Center. As a bonus to practicing attorneys, the 2016 program will again seek approval for two hours of Continuing Legal Education ethics credit. The program is open to anyone interested in literature-you don't need to be an attorney to attend.

Above image by Benjamin West