All posts by Sarah Higinbotham

Summer, 2017: Folger Shakespeare Library

It’s an honor to be researching in the Folger Shakespeare Library archives this summer, working on my project about early modern legal violence. In the picture left, I’m reading a 1580 letter from Anne Broughton to her father Richard Bagot about a jury who committed what we would call “jury nullification.” Anne writes,

this day a Jurie of glomer went on p..ression to the aboutes westner hall being m..shalled with tipstases with goodlie paper hatbandes for acquinting a prisoner at glourer that had killed on medlictmer Atkinsons man in glom..

At first I interpreted that the jury might be marching in protest, perhaps because they had been forced to acquit someone they believed to be guilty; juries’ decisions were often subordinate to the assize bench, and juries could be kept without food, fire, tobacco, and water until the judge deemed their verdict was “just.” But Richard Crompton, in L’authoritie et Jurisdiction des Courts, sheds light on what must be the same jury:

Eleven of a Jury… did acquite one Hodye of Felony before Sir Roger Manwood Chiefe Baron in his Circuit in Somersetshire against apparent evidence: they were fined in Star-chamber, and did weare papers in Westminster hall, circa 22.Eliz. the which my selfe-saw.

“22 Eliz.” is the twenty-second year of Elizabeth’s reign, or 1580, the Bagot family lived near Somersetshire, and as the jury “did weare papers in Westminster Hall,” it seems to be the jury that Anne describes. Crompton writes that the jury acquitted the defendant “against apparent evidence,” perhaps because they believed he killed “Atkinson’s man” in self-defense and that manslaughter was a more just verdict than murder. Eleven of the jury were thus sent to the Star Chamber,  convicted of perjury, fined, and forced

Richard Crompton, L’Authoritie et Jurisdiction

to march in a public shame procession, being marshaled by the court bailiffs (tipstaffs) while wearing paper hats (“goodlie paper hatbandes”) that likely read “for wilful perjury.” If convicted of jury nullification, jurists could be whipped, pilloried, have their ears cut off, be imprisoned, or “sometimes by more of these punishments joined together.” Their verdict provides insight into what juries were willing to do to push back against the law’s violence.

Juries could be indicted for their verdicts until 1670, when it was ruled that juries could no longer be compelled to vote against their conscience.


Spring 2017: Shakespeare, Law, and Violence

“Humanity does not gradually progress from combat to combat until it arrives at universal reciprocity, where the rule of law finally replaces warfare, humanity installs each of its violences in a system of rules and thus proceeds from domination to domination”

Michel Foucault, “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History”

Fall 2016: Shakespeare’s First Folio


Seven years after William Shakespeare died, one of the world’s most important books was published: a collection of thirty-six plays that we now call the “First Folio.” Without the First Folio, we would not have Julius Caesar, Macbeth, The Taming of the Shrew, or two plays that have profoundly changed the way that I think , Measure for Measure and Twelfth Night. We also wouldn’t have the iconic stage direction, “Exit, pursued by a bear” (The Winter’s Tale).  As Georgia Tech phases out its physical library, and as  the world celebrates the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death with a First Folio tour, this course will investigate what the First Folio affords us in the twenty-first century.

Christie’s staff member, Photo credit: Kirsty Wigglesworth

Summer 2016: Shakespeare & Law

Shakespeare portrati

Shakespeare’s lines reverberate not only on stages, movie screens, and in classrooms, but also in courtrooms: he has been cited in more than 800 judicial opinions. This course will explore three of Shakespeare’s plays through the lens of the law, examining the ways in which justice, punishment, and litigation are a cultural practice often rooted in our shared stories. More specifically, all three of our plays this semester − King Lear, Measure for Measure, and Merchant of Venice − center around themes of the law’s violence. How violent does the law need to be to control violence? That’s the question that Shakespeare investigates, and one that we will consider in the context of our own legally violent society.

(The Chandos Portrait of William Shakespeare, c. 1600-1610, attributed to John Taylor. National Portrait Gallery, London.)