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Representing Justice: Stores of Law and Literature

Great literature teaches and reinforces society’s laws, articulates its values, and enforces the social contracts that unite us as a culture. This course is a provocative exploration of the connections that link law and literature.
Representing Justice: Stories of Law and Literature is rated 3.8 out of 5 by 19.
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Rated 4 out of 5 by from An interesting narrative Professor Heinzelman provides some superb literary criticism in this series. She is a close reader of the texts and conveys nuance and subtlety in tightly constructed lectures. I found the lectures particularly strong when each focused on a single text – such as a particular play of Shakespeare, or Lolita or Bleak House. Her interest in feminist topics is not monomaniacal, but most often provides interesting insight on the texts. The strengths of the course, however, are also its weaknesses. By setting out to provide a narrative, she necessarily omits a great deal – both with respect to the texts themselves and the ones she chooses not to cover. Thus, with respect to the Bible, she focuses on the book of Genesis - presumably to construct a narrative about patriarchy. She completely omits the New Testament – the trial and execution of Jesus as well as the Gospels’ and epistles’ commentary on the law. This omission is so spectacular that she ceases to be a trustworthy guide to the subject matter. The influence of the biblical Christ is, of course, very important in some of the literature she subsequently covers. Also, consider this line from the introduction of the course guidebook: “Aligned with these stereotypical expectations is the assumption that literature is the realm of the feminine, and law, that of the masculine.” I understand her point about masculinity and law, but the dichotomy with femininity and literature is highly tendentious. Who makes this assumption? In conclusion, while there is much to be gained by the course material, one should approach it with a critical eye.
Date published: 2023-07-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Analysis of literature with a justice perspective Enlightened me on aspects of many literary works I’m familiar with but now in a more broad context. This course opens my historical perspective when added to the knowledge gained from other Great Courses.
Date published: 2022-10-06
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Fair to good I bought this last month and it has many thought provoking ideas. However, I must say a lot of it went over my head. She packs too much information into the presentation, and it has the feeling of her just reading a script.
Date published: 2022-03-06
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Misses the boat While the course purports to be about the representations of law in stories, it seems more it's about the prof finding her preconceived (and not particularly well thought out) beliefs in the stories she chooses. I listened to the intro lecture, which was vacuous, and the first "real" lecture, (#2) purportedly about Genesis and Exodus. She had zero insight, and much of what she did have was a non-insightful repetition of Christian interpretations: the Torah is "law"; mankind "fell"; there was absolutely nothing she said that I thought was in the slightest degree insightful. For someone claiming to be a literature person, she might have been expected to at least comment on the using of rising action and climax to discuss the revelation at Sinai -- but she was silent.
Date published: 2022-01-02
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
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Great literature teaches and reinforces society’s laws, articulates its values, and enforces the social contracts that unite us as a culture. This course is a provocative exploration of the rhetorical and philosophical connections that link law and literature. As presented by Professor Susan Sage Heinzelman, this course may force you to re-evaluate the ways you read fiction, watch films and plays, or take in legal arguments.


Susan Sage Heinzelman

The fact that a book can offend people on both sides of the political spectrum, however, probably means that it’s doing something right as a work of art.


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). She is president of the Association for the Study of Law, Culture, and the Humanities. She is coeditor (with Zipporah Batshaw Wiseman) of Representing Women: Law, Literature, and Feminism (1994) and author of many articles on the representation of women in law and literature, including ìBlack Letters and Black Rams: Fictionalizing Law and Legalizing Literature in Enlightenment Englandî in Law/Text/Culture (2002).

Literature as Law, Literature of Law

01: 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.

34 min
The Old Testament as Law and Literature

02: 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.

30 min
Revenge and Justice in Aeschylus’s

03: 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.

31 min
Community in Sophocles’s

04: 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.

28 min
Ritual Order in Mystery and Morality Plays

05: 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.

31 min
Chaucer’s Lawyers and Priests

06: 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.

31 min
Inns of Court, Royal Courts, and the Stage

07: 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.

29 min

08: 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.

33 min

09: 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.

30 min

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.

29 min
An Epic Trial—Milton’s

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.

29 min

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.

30 min
Trial Tales of Parricide Mary Blandy (1752)

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.

29 min
Property and Self—Edgeworth, Burney, Austen

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.

28 min
Law as Fog—Dickens’s

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.

28 min
Puritans Anew—

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.

29 min
Slavery and

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.

29 min
Victorian Limits—

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.

31 min
Susan Glaspell’s “Jury of Her Peers” (1917)

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.

29 min
Kafka and 20th-Century Anxiety about Law

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.

29 min

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.

29 min
“Witnessing” Slavery in

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.

30 min
Maternal Infanticide—Myth and Judgment

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.

31 min
Literature and Law—Past, Present, Future

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?

32 min