Representing Justice: Stories of Law and Literature

Course No. 2336
Professor Susan Sage Heinzelman, Ph.D.
The University of Texas at Austin
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Course No. 2336
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Course Overview

Great literature can be the means of understanding as well as creating our world—by teaching and reinforcing society's laws, articulating its values, and enforcing the social contracts that unite us as a culture. What if literature itself generated our ideas and feelings about justice, marriage and family, property, authority, race, or gender? What if it enflamed our determination to pursue justice—or, conversely, undermined our ability to detect injustice?

What if law in all its variations—from religious commandments to oral tradition to codified statute—embraced its own narrative assumptions to the point of absorbing purely literary conventions as a means of more forcefully arguing its points in the legal arena?

And what if this dynamic relationship between written and unwritten laws and literature is constantly evolving? How do law and literature influence or reflect one other? And what lessons might we draw from their symbiotic relationship?

Representing Justice: Stories of Law and Literature is a provocative exploration of just such questions—an examination of the rhetorical and philosophical connections that link these two disciplines.

Mine the Riches of a New Scholarly Field

Professor Susan Sage Heinzelman, who has been honored many times for her teaching skills, is also president of the Association for the Study of Law, Culture, and the Humanities, and she brings to these lectures many years of thought and research into the roles of law and literature in society and culture and their relationship to one another.

She is especially concerned to break down the stereotypical definitions of these two disciplines: that literature is fictive and subjective, that is, persuasive on a primarily emotional level understood as the realm of the feminine, and that law is factual and objective, and thus primarily persuasive in the intellectual realm traditionally ascribed to the masculine.

Professor Heinzelman refers to the representation of culture, whether legal or literary, through language, image, symbol systems, and action. It is the intertwining of the stereotypical definitions that she untangles in these lectures, showing how each has contributed to creating our cultural beliefs and expectations "in similar ways—by offering us ways of imagining ourselves—both at our best and at our worst."

Professor Heinzelman's examination encompasses more than 3,000 years. It begins with the Old Testament—in which literature was law—and takes us through ancient Greece, the Middle Ages, England's experience of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, and the 19th and 20th centuries. Focusing on works of literature that hold law, implicit or explicit, as a central theme—as well as on the overall relationship between law and literature in society—she shows how that relationship gradually transformed from the astoundingly intricate cross-connections between law and literature still present during the time of Shakespeare, to a point in the mid-18th century when the two disciplines separated more clearly into the distinct realms we recognize today.

Fresh Insights into Great Works and Their Eras

As Professor Heinzelman guides you through these great works, she shows how each reflects its times, and she offers fresh insights that can illuminate even those with which you may already be familiar. For example:

  • In The Scarlet Letter , you'll see how a woman sentenced to a lifetime of community shame sets aside societal dictates to create a new standard of virtue for women.
  • In the 1917 short story, A Jury of Her Peers, you'll see how a reporter covering a sensational turn-of-the-century murder trial would one day reconfigure the events of the case into a play and a short story that would dramatize the implications of all-male juries sitting in judgment on female defendants.
  • And in Lolita, you'll see how a single literary work can challenge not only a society's written jurisprudence, but its unwritten moral codes, as well.

As presented by Professor Heinzelman, these and the other works explored in this course each present their own challenges, forcing you to re-evaluate the ways you read fiction, watch films and plays, or take in legal arguments. Indeed, you may never do any of these things the same way again.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Literature as Law, Literature of Law
    This introductory lecture explores the variable relationships between law and literature as deeply interconnected forms of storytelling and argues in favor of understanding both in terms of their larger cultural contexts—including not only of words, but also images, urban spaces, events, rituals, and social organizations. x
  • 2
    The Old Testament as Law and Literature
    We explore how the stories of the Old Testament narrated the history of God's chosen people and legislated how individuals and society should conduct their affairs in relation to God while making literature out of those contracts through myths. x
  • 3
    Revenge and Justice in Aeschylus’s Oresteia
    Aeschylus's trilogy of plays takes its audience through the most fundamental transformation in all of Western law: from the ancient savagery of blood feuding, still present in Homer's telling of these same stories, to the considered and reasoned examination of the two sides before a neutral jury. x
  • 4
    Community in Sophocles’s Oedipus Tyrannus
    We examine how mythology and the genre of tragedy in Sophocles's play represent a particular Greek view of the world and of man's relationship to the divine, and we see how the influence of Greek literature and philosophy still resonates in our own articulations of just retribution. x
  • 5
    Ritual Order in Mystery and Morality Plays
    This lecture turns from the ancient biblical and Greek sources of law to analyze a form of dramatic performance that emerged in Europe in the Middle Ages, drawing on the juridical and religious concepts of law found in the New Testament and the life of Christ to solidify shared cultural values across nations. x
  • 6
    Chaucer’s Lawyers and Priests
    We see how three tales from the medieval literary narrative Canterbury Tales illustrate once again the profound importance of biblical narrative and its role in constructing cultural values in the Middle Ages. x
  • 7
    Inns of Court, Royal Courts, and the Stage
    Great authors from Chaucer to Dickens learned law at the Inns of Court. We examine the extraordinarily dense network of political, religious, and aesthetic relationships and influences connecting the Inns of Court, the royal court, and English playhouses during the time of Shakespeare. x
  • 8
    Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice (1596–97)
    The Merchant of Venice even now provokes passionate discussion about the anti-Semitic values it seems to condone. This lecture examines the arguments for and against this understanding of the play and looks at the rights and limitations of contract law on foreign citizens in England. x
  • 9
    Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure (1603–04)
    We explore a play that reflects the deep interest that the nature of moral and legal authority held for 17th-century citizens—and not only those in positions to enforce moral and legal regulations. x
  • 10
    Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale (1609–11)
    The Winter's Tale illustrates the inextricable connections between the patriarchy of the state and of the family, and the potential for both order and chaos that such a complex, interwoven system of law and morality sustains. x
  • 11
    An Epic Trial—Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667)
    This great epic of English literature illustrates the nature of the English Puritan state—itself another paradise whose loss Milton (who had been secretary to Oliver Cromwell) lamented—and the complicated web of connections that linked Puritan theology, laws, and politics. x
  • 12
    Moll Flanders (1722); Beggar’s Opera (1727)
    In these two texts, a novel and a comic opera, we see how the moral influence of the church in social and political matters is challenged by the secular values of "the middling classes" and a growing mercantile economy. x
  • 13
    Trial Tales of Parricide Mary Blandy (1752)
    Novelist Henry Fielding wrote a popular account of a mid-18th-century cause célèbre, the trial of Mary Blandy for the murder of her father. We will see how Fielding's narrative, the official trial report, and the defendant's own autobiography were mutually supportive and conflicting accounts. Although the idea of sin and the idea of crime were still inseparable in the popular imagination, we can see the beginnings of a "modern"—if potentially untrue—sensibility that represented law as objective, but considered literature to be subjective. x
  • 14
    Property and Self—Edgeworth, Burney, Austen
    The lecture looks at the work of three women writers to examine how social constructs of class and gender are reflected in and produced by the law. For example, in Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen employs the conventions of the romance novel to explore the gender contradictions in the laws of inheritance and property. x
  • 15
    Law as Fog—Dickens’s Bleak House (1852–53)
    This novel addresses the flaws in the British legal system and also uses that system as a metaphor for the corruption, inhumanity, and gridlock of the social system. x
  • 16
    Puritans Anew—The Scarlet Letter (1850)
    Hawthorne, like Dickens, drew enormous inspiration from reading Notable English Trials, remarking that he could spend four life times writing novels based on those cases. In this look into America's Puritan past, which is also a commentary on America's mid-19th century, we see a woman turn from shame and the alienation of her community to become an independent thinker, proto-feminist, and maternal figure to the women under the patriarchal regime that has condemned her. x
  • 17
    Slavery and Huckleberry Finn (1885)
    Published 20 years after the end of the Civil War, Mark Twain's novel is one of the most controversial ever published in America. It confronts the contorted moral philosophy that enabled those who believed themselves Christians to enslave other humans. x
  • 18
    Victorian Limits—Tess and Jude the Obscure
    In Thomas Hardy's self-described novels of "character and environment," the environment encompasses more than a physical setting; it includes the strict Victorian moral environment that, for both Tess and Jude, compounds the limitations of their natures. x
  • 19
    Susan Glaspell’s “Jury of Her Peers” (1917)
    This landmark short story explores the consequences of all-male juries sitting in judgment on women, a practice that persisted in the United States until passage of a law by Congress in 1968. x
  • 20
    Kafka and 20th-Century Anxiety about Law
    In his novels and short stories, Kafka portrays a world both realistic and dreamlike where individuals confront a sense that they are guilty and deserve punishment but can find no reason for their suffering. x
  • 21
    Lolita (1958) and the Art of Confessing
    This lecture examines a novel that has become part of the American cultural landscape, a confession in which the perversity of the narrator's crimes are matched only by the perversity and assumed duplicity of his narrative, a narrative that nevertheless urges us to try to understand him. x
  • 22
    “Witnessing” Slavery in Beloved (1987)
    Toni Morrison's novel examines the spiritual as well as the physical and political consequences of slavery, returning us to the relationship of law and religion. x
  • 23
    Maternal Infanticide—Myth and Judgment
    We look at the representation of maternal infanticide in literature and law, drawing on ancient and modern texts to explore the way in which we come to judgment about a crime that has been depicted as the most unnatural of all. x
  • 24
    Literature and Law—Past, Present, Future
    The relationship between literature and law today is in some ways similar to the situation in ancient Greece, where law was not an abstract system of rules but a live performance. Is the saturation of our media with law and law-related topics a healthy de-mystification of what was once an elite and hermetic enterprise and therefore something we should value as essentially American? Can law survive its popularity? x

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Your professor

Susan Sage Heinzelman

About Your Professor

Susan Sage Heinzelman, Ph.D.
The University of Texas at Austin
Dr. Susan Sage Heinzelman is Associate Professor of English and Director of the Center for Women's and Gender Studies at The University of Texas at Austin, where she has been teaching since 1977 in the English Department and in the School of Law. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of Western Ontario. Professor Heinzelman has won many university teaching awards, including the President's Associates Teaching Award (2003)....
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Representing Justice: Stories of Law and Literature is rated 4.0 out of 5 by 15.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding series I have bought dozens of TC courses and this is one of the best. It offers a new perspective on many stories, books, poems etc. that I thought I was familiar with. It is important to stay with the course to the end as many of the themes introduced in earlier lectures have repercussions in later lectures.
Date published: 2018-01-15
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Challenging and deep This was the most difficult of all the Teaching Company courses I have delved into, but I stuck with it and found it provocative and interesting. What made it difficult were three things: 1)The dense, formal, completely unconversational prose of the lectures; 2)I had read only a few of the works discussed; and 3)The professor's posh English accent. Because of these factors, I think I understood only around 70% of what was discussed. What made it rewarding were the themes discussed, all broadly connected to changing concepts of the law in Western civilization and how the law has been represented in various kinds of literature, from the Bible to novels, poems and plays. Questions like... * grappling with one's fate * divine justice vs. human justice * getting "what you deserve" in some cosmic sense * relationship between class and the law, between morality and the law * the central role of property in English law and literature * questions of slavery and women's status in the law * censorship and obscenity Lectures that I found especially good were those on Oedipus Rex, Paradise Lost, Moll Flanders, Jude the Obscure, Lolita. For anyone who is deeply engaged in the law either personally or professionally, who has the patience to read some or all of the works discussed, I believe they would find this course very worthwhile.
Date published: 2017-07-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Surprise This course wasn't what I was expecting. It was, in fact, much better than what I expected. The lecturer described how literature represented the changing perception of the role of law in culture. From the Oresteia where the creation of jury trials ended a multi-generational blood feud. She put this in the context of 5th centure (BCE) Athens where the court system was in political change. She did use feminist issues a lot in her illustrations but the role of women in society has been a major issue over the centuries and it provides excellent examples for the legal conflicts she illustrates. Other things could have been used (religious conflicts for example with cases like Galileo and the Scopes trial) but it ties the course together to have many of the lectures deal with a single evolving concept. It took some patient with the first couple of lectures before I caught onto the actual theme of the course but it was worth it. I plan to listen again, at least to the beginning with a better understanding of the overall purpose.
Date published: 2015-08-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating and informative I am a fan of this course and of Professor Heinzelman's work in general, and I found this course especially thought provoking. She is an expert in the field, and does an amazing job of exploring a difficult subject and making it accessible and entertaining. I would recommend this course to listeners with a background in either literature or law, or with an interest in the relationships between literature, law, and society. The background on each of the works was especially interesting to me. This is not, as some reviewers have noted, a basic course on the works covered, but rather a deeper exploration of the course's theme through those works. It takes the subject to a new level, and I felt that it provided a richer understanding of both the individual works and the historical context in which they were written. I enjoyed both the pacing and presentation. Excellent and recommended.
Date published: 2013-05-17
Rated 2 out of 5 by from One of the very few courses I ever returned The topic seemed very promising. But the delivery was so slow and uninspired that I found the course tiresome, and I was unable to finish it. Most of the lecturers for The Teaching Company are enthusiastic, and their love of the subjects they teach is joyfully infectious -- I am sorry to say this course was not among those.
Date published: 2013-03-22
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not as Advertised For the most part the lectures centers around the feminist's view of the world. While this is alright the title of the lectures gives no indication that the subject range is so limited. This is not true for every lecture, Kafka for instance, but it is for too many. Additionally the connection between the cited literature and the legal principles involved in too many cases is a stretch.
Date published: 2011-11-23
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Lacked coherence and unity Although there were segments that were strong in spotlighting individual works, the main themes (Whatever they were?) got lost in highly pedantic and abstruse commentary. I found myself struggling to make the connections between law and literature that was supposedly the intent of the course. The lack of clarity in the delivery of the content required multiple re-winds in order to grasp the point(s), some of which still eluded me. Not enjoyable for listening as it lacked coherence and overall unity.
Date published: 2009-02-27
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Trendy, Banal These lectures reflect trendy approaches in current academe, but provide little real insight into the works of literature under consideration. The works studied are mostly great works, so anyone who is induced to read them by reason of this course will benefit in that sense. But the lectures seek more to place the works into the professor's framework, shaped by contemporary academic obsessions, than to elucidate them in their own terms. In my opinion, the purpose of literary criticism and of a course on literature should be to help listeners/readers to appreciate and understand the works. There is little of that in these lectures.
Date published: 2009-02-08
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