When Law Meets Literature-A Meaningful dialogue

The legal profession is often seen as an expansive realm where exploration knows no bounds. It intertwines with various disciplines such as History, Philosophy, Psychology, Economics, Sociology, and Literature. Among these, the connection between Law and Literature stands out as particularly profound, akin to the symbiotic relationship between pen and paper. The convergence of Law […]

The legal profession is often seen as an expansive realm where exploration knows no bounds. It intertwines with various disciplines such as History, Philosophy, Psychology, Economics, Sociology, and Literature. Among these, the connection between Law and Literature stands out as particularly profound, akin to the symbiotic relationship between pen and paper.

The convergence of Law and Literature traces back to 1930 when former United States Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Nathan Cardozo penned his seminal essay “Law and Literature,” emphasizing the clarity with which novelists and playwrights convey ideas. Cardozo advocated for judges to adopt a similar clarity in their prose. This article marks the inception of the Law and Literature movement, which has flourished since.

American Law Professor James Boyd White is credited as a key figure in this movement, highlighting the interconnectedness of Law, Literature, and other disciplines. In his work “Law as Language: Reading Law and Reading Literature,” White drew parallels between lawyers and literary critics as interpreters of texts. Over time, this movement has evolved, giving rise to two distinct branches: “Law as Literature” and “Law in Literature.”

These subdivisions explore how law is depicted in literary works and how literature can be analyzed through legal frameworks, respectively. In essence, the Law and Literature movement continues to thrive, enriching both fields with its interdisciplinary approach.

Law as a Literature

The intersection of Law and Literature is a captivating subject that prompts us to redefine our understanding of both disciplines. Literature, as per the Oxford Dictionary, encompasses written works of enduring artistic merit or publications on specific subjects. This begs the question: can legal texts like Bare Acts, Court Judgements, and even the Constitution of India be classified as Literature?

In my view, legal texts unequivocally qualify as Literature. Bare Acts, Court Judgements, and constitutional documents represent profound expressions of societal norms and governance, embodying enduring significance. For instance, the Constitution of India stands as a monumental piece of Literature, persisting as the country’s supreme law since its inception in 1949.

Renowned poet and legal scholar Jerry Pinto aptly remarked at the Mountain Echoes Literary Festival that law is fundamentally an interpretation of literature. Indeed, legal practitioners and judges engage in an interpretative act akin to literary analysis when delving into legal texts. Each legal case unfolds as a narrative, with characters, conflicts, and resolutions mirroring the structure of literary works.

Moreover, both Law and Literature share a common purpose of addressing societal issues. Legal precedents, akin to literary morals, provide guidance and establish norms for future conduct. Just as literary texts convey moral lessons, legal judgments impart societal values and principles.

The significance of writing further underscores the connection between Law and Literature. Lawyers, akin to writers, meticulously craft legal documents and arguments, employing a formal yet precise language. The philosophy of “Deconstruction” introduced by Jacques Derrida finds resonance in legal practice, as lawyers dissect facts and legal principles to discern their underlying meanings.

In essence, the convergence of Law and Literature enriches our understanding of both disciplines. Legal texts embody the enduring artistic merit and societal significance characteristic of Literature, while legal practice mirrors the interpretative nature and moral exploration inherent in literary analysis.

Legal Interpretation and Literature

Literature and law share a profound interconnection, each influencing the other in a dynamic symbiosis that shapes societal norms and perceptions. Notably, literature frequently serves as a platform for authors to critique and dissect the legal frameworks of their times. Renowned literary figures such as Shakespeare, Dickens, Kafka, and Dostoevsky employed their works to scrutinize and challenge prevailing notions of law and order. Even Shakespeare, rumored to possess legal training himself, famously quipped, “the first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers” in Henry VI, underscoring a satirical commentary on the legal establishment.

The impact of literature on law is manifold. As literature permeates society, it wields considerable influence over societal norms and values. When authors incorporate themes of law into their works, it resonates deeply with readers, fostering a critical examination of existing legal paradigms. Literary movements like Realism and Transcendentalism have also left indelible imprints on legal doctrines, shaping the evolution of laws over time.

Conversely, law finds its way into literature as a subject matter, enriching narratives with legal complexities and moral dilemmas. Through lifelike storytelling, literature sensitizes legal practitioners to the human condition, fostering a deeper understanding of societal needs and aspirations.

Moreover, the relationship between law and literature extends to the courtroom itself. Judges often draw upon literary references to elucidate legal principles and render judgments more relatable and comprehensible. In landmark cases like Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug vs Union Of India & Ors (2011) 10 SCC 354, Justice M. Katju opened the judgment with a poignant couplet from Mirza Ghalib, while in N. Ranga Rao and Sons vs Anil Garg and Ors 2006 (32) PTC 15 Del, Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul borrowed lines from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to underscore the essence of intellectual property rights. In another order in the same case, the judges quoted Ghalib’s verse ‘Pinha tha daam-e-sakht qareeb aashiyan ke, udhne na paaye the ki giraftaar hum hue’ to describe the plight of young girls caught in the sex trade due to abject poverty.

These instances underscore the profound synergy between law and literature, where literary expressions not only critique legal frameworks but also inspire judicial discourse, enriching both disciplines and contributing to a deeper understanding of the human experience within the realm of law.

Rearguing the relationship of the law and literature: The Constitution as a Literature

A country’s Constitution serves as a living document, embodying strength and continuity by bridging the past, present, and future. At its core, it is a written text, its language both defining its limitations and broadening its horizons. Disagreements arise when interpretations of constitutional language diverge, reflecting differing understandings of its intent, scope, and construction. Aristotle’s concept of “ethos” underscores how a text shapes the relationship between its readers and various actors within society.

Examining law, particularly constitutional law, in reverse, reveals a shift from viewing legal provisions as rigid commands to understanding them as dynamic constructs requiring reader engagement and interpretation. This perspective, as elucidated by legal theorist Hart, distinguishes between internal and external points of view, emphasizing the role of culture, history, and language in shaping legal discourse. A Constitution thus becomes a framework of activities that bind individuals together, establishing relationships and assigning roles within society.

The Constitution’s literary nature lies in its ability to give meaning to human experience through language, akin to the function of literature. While acknowledging their differences, both legal and literary texts share common concerns and engage readers in various activities. This challenges the misconception that law is solely about power and practicality, while literature is purely aesthetic. Instead, the Constitution is constitutive, creating new spaces for dialogue and instituting conditions for discourse.

Both law and literature thrive in ambiguity and complexity, recognizing the role of individual perspective in shaping interpretation. This acknowledgment of the indeterminate nature of meaning allows for the exploration of relationships between texts and readers. In this ongoing quest to ascertain meaning and establish connections, both law and literature find vitality and relevance.

Future of Law and Literature

The relationship between literature and modern law is multifaceted, particularly evident in the regulation of literary works through copyright laws. Dating back to the Statute of Anne in 1710, which recognized authors’ rights, copyright laws have continually evolved to protect literary creations from plagiarism. The convergence of law and literature is increasingly prominent in academia, with the emergence of interdisciplinary courses like “Law in Literature” and “Law as Literature” offered by universities worldwide.

Legal English professors argue that studying law through literature enhances students’ ability to interpret legal principles effectively. Literature’s universality makes it a relatable tool for teaching law, as aspiring lawyers often find authors like Shakespeare and Dickens more familiar than legal theorists like Bentham and Locke. By integrating literature into legal education, a hybrid understanding of both disciplines is cultivated, fostering a more engaging and efficient learning process.

It’s crucial to recognize that while literature complements law, it doesn’t override it; instead, it offers supplementary insights and perspectives. Lord Denning’s assertion underscores the significance of literary proficiency in legal practice, emphasizing the importance of mastering language and communication skills.

Ultimately, the interdependence between law and literature is undeniable. Both subjects stand independently yet mutually enrich each other. As legal landscapes evolve, the integration of literature into legal education and practice offers novel approaches to teaching, interpreting, and arguing legal concepts, reinforcing the enduring bond between law and literature.

The author is a Law Undergraduate form Bharati Vidyapeeth-New law College He is Currently Serving as Research Associate at StartUp Advisors