Merchant of Venice

The Course of Law: The Legal System in The Merchant of Venice and The Comedy of Erros College

William Shakespeare includes a Duke to represent the utmost authority figure in many of his plays. In The Comedy of Errors and The Merchant of Venice, both Dukes hold complete control—or, at least, what they perceive to be complete control—over their respective regions. Shakespeare uses these two characters to show how “authority” is oftentimes an illusion, and that, ultimately, everyone, including the Dukes, are impotent to the law. While the Dukes enforce and ostensibly create the law, they are still subject to its rigid rules. Shakespeare presents the legal system as static and fundamental to society: a Duke neglecting to enforce the law would “Much impeach the justice of his state,” causing pandemonium to ensue (Merchant III, 3, 29). Although the Dukes often do not agree with it—for moral, social, and legal reasons—they “cannot deny the course of law” (Merchant III, 3, 26). To this end, Shakespeare shows his audience that even the highest authority figures are not above the law.

Solinus, the Duke of Ephesus, spends the majority of The Comedy of Errors reluctant to carry out the law. After Egeon recounts his life story, Solinus swells with pity, declaring:
Now trust me, were it not against our laws—
Which princes, would...

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