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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: December ::
Re: Penalty for Murder
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.2254  Thursday, 7 December 2000

[1]     From:   Tony Burton <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 5 Dec 2000 13:32:26 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.2234 Re: Penalty for Murder

[2]     From:   Manuela Rossini <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 05 Dec 2000 17:46:41 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.2234 Re: Penalty for Murder


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Manuela Rossini <
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Date:           Tuesday, 05 Dec 2000 17:46:41 +0100
Subject: 11.2234 Re: Penalty for Murder
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.2234 Re: Penalty for Murder

>Frances Dolan (no relation) has something about women's executions in
>her book on female criminality. Women who killed their husbands were
>executed for petty treason rather than homicide. I believe that meant
>burning rather than hanging, but dial her name into the MLA and find
>out.

The book Pat Dolan refers to is DANGEROUS FAMILIARS. REPRESENTATIONS OF
DOMESTIC CRIME IN ENGLAND 1550-1700. I consulted it before writing my
previous mail on the topic - there are some pages on OTHELLO but no
mention of the particular case of a husband murdering his adulterous
wife. I might have overlooked it though. It's a fascinating study
analysing sources of various kinds and often bloodcurdling content:
trial transcripts, confessions, gallows speeches, pamphlets, ballads,
and plays.

Best,
Manuela Rossini
University of Basel

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tony Burton <
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 >
Date:           Tuesday, 5 Dec 2000 13:32:26 -0500
Subject: 11.2234 Re: Penalty for Murder
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.2234 Re: Penalty for Murder

A couple of helpful discussions of the law of homicide as Shakespeare's
contemporaries would have know it are contained in Thomas Glynn Watkin,
"Hamlet and the Law of Homicide", Law Quarterly Review 100 (1984), and
James V. Holleran, "The Jury and the English Law of Homicide,
1200-1600", Michigan Law Review 74 (1976).  The latter, in particular,
emphasizes social issues in regard to the jurors' unwillingness to bring
in a guilty verdict in a "sympathetic" homicide and (as I recall) how
the testimony of the witnesses tended conveniently to reflect precisely
the technical pleading requirements to suppot not-guilty findings ("he
attacked me and when I drew to protect myself, he fell upon my knife").

The latter is a good source for getting a sense of the widespread legal
sophistication and pre-trial consultation behind and within legal
proceedings that did not involve the wealthy or powerful; and,
correspondingly, conveys a strong implication that the "facts" revealed
in court records of contested cases were regularly manufactured to fit
formal requirements of proof and obtain the result desired rather than
to describe what was happening outside the courthouse.  A good many
studies of socio-legal issues seem, to my mind, overly credulous in
accepting judicial records as evidence that the facts described actually
occurred.  My own researches convince me that perjury and fraud were so
common as to be the rule; and largely because the existing formal law
was both unreasonable, narrow in application, and inflexible.  If the
fraud was tolerated and winked at by authority (and it is not entirely
clear to what extent the judges themselves were comfortable with these
charades) it may have been that they understood the lesson that M. St.
Exupery's Little Prince learned a few centuries later: a wise ruler
knows that only reasonable laws will be obeyed.

Tony Burton
 

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