Challenging the Law

An essay written in an examination period for a Shakespeare class. The topic "Challenging the law" was given as the starting point.

Challenging the law seems to be best taken in the sense of challenging "fundamental" law. A trial of a person for a crime is not in this sense a challenge of the law. Rather, a challenge of the law entails one seeking to refute or challenge basic or specific laws.

Bollingbroke makes at least two such challenges, which are related i.e. the second is not possible without the first. Compression of time in the play suggests Bollingbroke had a military force, although this is never tested before his exile. His first challenge (or defiance) of the law comes when he denies Richard' authority and returns from exile. Richard's inability to uphold his "lawful" claims on Bollingbroke's land and his exile make Bollingbroke's challenge successful.

Bollingbroke's second challenge is in some ways more lofty. However, it is not a new challenge. This is, Bollingbroke challenges the law(s) of inheritance of the crown and usurps it from Richard. While the "God given" laws on descent of the crown seem loftier and therefore harder to challenge, Richard himself had successfully these laws so Bollingbroke knew that it could be done.

Merchant of Venice also gives examples of laws challenged. One example is in the rial of Antino for not replaying Shylock. The legal trial is not truly a challenge of the laws but rather a challenge of two men over a point of law. However, Shylock's (as a Jew) even trying to use the "legal" system - which is governed by a Christian society - is a challenge to the laws of social structure. His challenge is not unlike the challenges of generations of minorities in this country. Shylock, knowing that he cannot win according to society's laws, proceeds to the trial none-the-less.

Proche also challenges the laws in a couple of ways, by denying Shylock any blood with the flesh she is seemingly changing with a judicial hand that which today we would consider a legislative endeavor - much as a judge might today use contempt powers to get around legislative shortcomings in the law. her challenge, however, completely changes what is seemingly the intent of the law.

In other ways Porche challenges laws. In a statement at the beginning of the play she essentially says she is above even her own laws. This places possibly the greatest challenge on any law. if she does not subject herself to the law there is no constraint on the laws she can devise and she can then come up with unlivable laws.

Seemingly she challenges the law in her choice of husband. While she choses he husband "in the manner" in which her father has directed she challenges the "laws of fate" by influencing which suitor finds her picture (either by tampering or possibly simply the song while Bassino chooses). Even after marriage she challenges the law of her marriage contract when she deceptively encourages to Bassino to break the contract.

While there are many possible interpretations of challenging the law, the ideal of challenging as change seems most appropriate to these plays. These challenges occur on every level from personal, to political and spiritual levels.