What Shakespeare's Plays Teach Us About Justice
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Yoshino (Constitutional Law/NYU School of Law; Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights, 2006) argues that the Bard advanced complex notions about justice, which remain enduringly relevant and deserve to be revisited.

The narrative structure is roughly chronological (the author begins with the early Titus Andronicus and ends with The Tempest) and covers most of the major plays of the canon—The Merchant of Venice, Measure for MeasureOthello, the “Henriad” (Richard II, the two parts of Henry IVHenry V), MacbethHamlet and King Lear. Each chapter features an exegesis of the play and, usually, a look at a contemporary issue in the light of Shakespeare’s views. Throughout, Yoshino’s liberal political positions are prominent. He sees in that most sanguinary revenge play Titus, for example, a distant mirror of our mistakes in Iraq. In Portia’s hair-splitting at the end of Merchant, he sees analogies to the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal. In Othello, he finds Shakespearean help in understanding the O.J. Simpson murder trial. George W. Bush may initially have seemed like young Prince Hal, but unlike Henry V, Bush failed to win his Agincourt. Most interesting are the author’s views on Hamlet. He praises the prince’s temporizing, viewing it as an intellectual’s attempt to be certain before acting, but he condemns him for a fierce focus that ignores the deleterious consequences on others. The author also pauses occasionally to remark upon some enduring issues in Shakespeare’s biography. How did he know so much about the law? (Well, he knew a lot about everything.) Is there a Macbeth curse? (Of course not.) Yoshino also takes a contrary view of Portia (“her rhetorical skill,” he says, “should inspire misgiving”) and thinks Cordelia might have been just plain inarticulate.

A fresh promontory from which to view the marvelous and mysterious Shakespearean sea.

Pub Date: April 12th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-06-176910-8
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2011