Theatre review: Shakespeare and the Law

Pairing Shakespeare with the law at a recent PBI/Alliance for Lawyers at Risk fundraising event was a perfect marriage, writes Melissa Coutinho

Middle Temple Hall was a fitting venue for the Peace Brigade International (PBI) UK and the Alliance for Lawyers at Risk event “Shakespeare and the Law” on 16 November 2015. 

The ‘new’ Hall, which dates back to the 16th Century, was where the first recorded performance of Twelfth Night was held on 2 February 1602. (Its 400th anniversary was marked by a repeat performance, in which Eddie Redmayne made his professional debut as Viola, and Mark Rylance played the part of Olivia.) The Shakespearean connection extends further, with the Temple Garden being cited as the venue for a scene in Henry VI, Part I where the York and Lancastrian roses were plucked. Such history was beautifully referenced by academics who gave short lectures, amidst performances from the actors Shelia Hancock, Juliet Stevenson, Alex Jennings and Samuel West. The actors read excerpts from Shakespeare’s plays which referenced justice and the law, including famous scenes from Measure for Measure, Henry IV, Julius Caesar and the Merchant of Venice. It was a special treat to be seated no more than five feet away from such distinguished actors, with Shelia Hancock demonstrating that 82 years of age was absolutely no bar to being easily the most glamorous and spell-binding of all the actors who performed.

The talks provided by Dr Hannah Crawforth and Professor Lorenzo Zucca added to the atmosphere and the event’s historical setting. Both are academics at Kings College, London, with a particular interest in Shakespeare; Professor Zucca is Professor in Law & Philosophy, and Dr Crawforth a senior lecturer in Shakespeare Studies. Between them they easily set the scene of Shakespearean England and its connection with the law. Given that by Tudor times, the Inns of Court were recognised alternatives to Oxford and Cambridge Universities as a place to study law, and that Shakespeare considered Middle Temple a good alternative to the Globe for a more ‘up-market’ audience, the pairing of Shakespeare with the law appeared a perfect marriage.

The mood of a bygone area was further evoked by musicians Sarah Small, Fatima Lahham, and Johan Lofving, from the Royal College of Music, who played traditional medieval instruments, including the theorbo (a lute shaped instrument with a very long neck to enable the inclusion of base notes, pictured above). Suitably attired, they performed the music of Henry Purcell, Thomas Arne and William Byrd in a series of Elizabethan melodies. It took little imagination to conjure up the dancing lords and ladies of medieval England, to whom they might have been providing accompaniment.

High Court judge and PBI patron Sir Peter Roth introduced and hosted the event on behalf of the PBI UK’s Lawyers Advisory Committee. He shared his personal reflection on the courage of lawyers who defend the rule of law, but expose themselves to personal risks to do so, celebrating their courage and honouring their achievements. Following the festivities, there was a fundraising appeal from Juliet Stevenson, also a patron, to enable PBI UK and the Alliance for Lawyers at Risk to continue the good work that they do, protecting lawyers who are at risk as a result of the work they take on. The event was well attended by over 200 guests, mainly composed of leaders drawn from the legal community, including Sir Henry Brooke CMG, a sponsor of this event and a long-standing supporter of PBI UK, who currently sits on PBI’s Lawyers’ Advisory Committee.

A video of the event is hosted here. Those who wish to donate can do so via the PBI website

Contributor Melissa Coutinho, Counsel Editorial Board

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Melissa Coutinho

Melissa Coutinho is a lawyer for the Government Legal Service An accredited arbitrator, qualified PPM practitioner and a magistrate, she also writes and lectures on medical products and their regulation.