Honors | Poetics of Justice
H204 | 0010 | Hodges, E


HON H204 Topics course is the same as COAS Topics Social and Historical
credit (S&H)

This section meets with HON H229

11:15A-12:30P TR    BH 011

The Poetics of Justice: How Judges Decide in Law and Literature

What motivates judges when they decide a case?  Do they primarily follow the
letter of the law? To what extent are they moved by other complex
pressures--including personal, political, religious, and social--and even
the pressure or spell of language itself?  By studying short stories,
novels, plays, and legal cases, this course will look at legal and literary
judges and the effect their attitude towards authority, human emotion, and
language have on their decisions.

Why law and literature?  Judges and kings, like poets and storytellers,
struggle in similar ways to give shape to human experience. They use similar
narrative techniques to tell their tale, or to make their case. Those of us
outside the law, however, rarely have a chance to see how judges arrive at
their decisions.  The fictions we read will allow us to look behind the
scenes--to look, for example, at concerns common to narrators in both
fields: the conflict between the individual and society, the influence of
the past (i.e. private and public history, and legal precedent), sources of
textual meaning, the dynamics of defining "criminals" and scapegoats, and
questions concerning morality and human motivation. The legal cases (2 or 3)
will allow us to look closely at the way our legal system works and to
explore how society, through its literature as well as its actions, responds
to the principles, practices, images, and language of that system.

Texts will selected from such authors as Sophocles, Plato, Shakespeare,
Emily Bronte, Melville, Hawthorne, Glaspell, Faulkner, Morrison, and
important American jurists. We will read primary sources closely--in order
to learn to think critically not only about what the text means but also
about how it means. Requirements will include several short written
assignments, a mid-term, a "reflection notebook," and a final paper.

Students from all disciplines are welcome. No special knowledge of law is