270 Tremont Street
Boston, MA 02116
On Tuesday, June 12, 2007, the Boston Lawyers Chapter of the Federalist Society presented a discussion on the art and practice of judging framed by a staged reading of Shakespeare's Measure for Measure. The event was the seventh in a series, entitled Shakespeare and the Law, produced by the Boston Lawyers Chapter in conjunction with the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company. The event was directed by CSC's Artistic Director Steven Maler and produced by McCarter & English partner Daniel J. Kelly. The Massachusetts Bar Association served as a co-sponsor of the event.
The first hour of the event featured prominent judges, public officials and members of the bar performing an abridged version of one of Shakespeare's works. This was followed by a discussion of the legal and political issues addressed in the play and their application to today's headlines.
Measure for Measure is Shakespeare's most direct study of law and society. As Dan Kornstein notes, in it, the Bard addresses head on "how much public support and respect the law needs, whether or not to enforce dead letter statutes, and if it is better to interpret laws strictly or equitably." The plot is far from dry and academic: in a Governor's absence, a Deputy Governor (Angelo) attempts to strictly enforce long dormant laws prohibiting sex before marriage and prostitution. In doing so, he sentences a young Romeo to death (after being caught in the act with his fiancé), only to offer to commute the sentence if his chaste sister (Isabella) agrees to have sex with him. The Governor (Vincentio) comes back to save the day but not before Isabella must make some hard decisions with regard to Angelo's demands. Using this plot as a backdrop, Shakespeare focuses on the special role of those who have been empowered to judge -- and the unique temptations that may beguile judges as they weigh the twin but often conflicting goals of justice and mercy.
Extending this theme, the discussion following the play addressed, among other things, the judicial selection process, whether political or social predispositions can affect a judge's decision, is it fair to label a judge as "conservative" or "liberal," and how far can a judge go when he or she believes that strict enforcement of the law will produce an unfair result.
Cast and Panelists: