Staging Law

All the law’s a stage, and law books often raise the curtain to reveal its players carefully arranged on a complex set. They depict judges, lawyers, and litigants in the formal spaces where law takes place, especially courtrooms, law offices, and law libraries.

The illustrations in the next stop of our gallery tour—case five: “Staging the Law”—serve many purposes, including public education, political critique, and the promotion of commercial sales.

Yet whatever their purpose, by depicting law’s stage, the books also portray law’s character as a public ritual.

Gates and walls and curtains. Parallel and intersecting architectural lines. Legal players aligned on different horizontal and vertical planes. In their very their realism, the images depict law as a theater of social meaning.

They are the most concrete form of symbolic representation in the tradition of law book illustration.

Images of lawyers at work—which appear almost exclusively in German and Dutch law books—depict more intimate legal proceedings, and so reveal a wealth of details about the relationships between lawyers and their clients, and even about the lawyers’ record keeping systems, as here:

Or here:

We’re mighty fond of them. (Scroll over the images for links to the complete images.)

The scandalous trial of Queen Caroline for adultery—initiated by George IV, who sought a divorce—was one of the most notorious legal and political events of its day, and served as a vehicle for popular criticism of government. The image that starts this post depicts the House of Lords decked out for the proceedings.

Image

The life, trial & defence, of Her Most Gracious Majesty, Caroline, Queen of Great-Britain. London: Dean & Munday, 1820. Acquired with the Charles J. Tanenbaum Fund.

Mark S. Weiner and Mike Widener

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For the next stop on our tour, click here.

 

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1 Response

  1. Evan Guthrie says:

    Thanks for sharing this law history.

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