Shakespeare and Legal Positivism

As I discuss on my Law and Language blog, Shakespeare’s works display a great deal of legal knowledge despite his limited formal education. As a part of Shakespeare’s vast imaginative universe, his story lines and characters help us (among countless other things) to analyze the command form of legal positivism, a form of legal positivism holding that laws are commands of sovereigns backed by threats of punishment. Various scenarios in the plays help us see how such an approach cannot succeed. As I plan to show in subsequent blogs, Shakespeare also: (a) beautifully lays out arguments for natural law only to demolish them; (b) centuries before Holmes formulated his prediction theory of law (the theory that the law is a set of predictions as to how the courts will act in certain circumstances), Shakespeare penned plays that help us see how such theory fails; and (c) Shakespeare otherwise gives us insightful bits and pieces from which we might begin generating a workable jurisprudence complying with the semiotics of law and its inherent restraints. In this first of four planned blogs (all four of which draw from my longer article Let’s Skill All the Lawyers), I’ll briefly explore the command theory form of legal positivism using insights from Shakespeare. Continue reading here.

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