This book addresses the relationship between Shakespeare and criminology with two foci: (1) the ways that modern theories of criminology – especially the dramaturgical theories of Tennenbaum, Lemert, Becker, Goffman, and Manning – can elucidate the events that occur in Shakespeare’s plays, and (2) the ways that a study of Shakespeare’s criminals – such as the homicidal Richard III or the rapist Caliban – might can help us generate new theories of criminology and criminal justice.
This pairing may seem peculiar – what does a 400-year-old English playwright have to do with criminalology as a contemporary academic discipline? – yet over the past century scholars, both Shakespeareans and criminologists, have created and sustained a multifaceted conversation on this very topic. In this conversation, there seem to be two dominant lines of thought. First, actors, directors, and critics – most famously Curt Toftelan, the subject of Mark Rogerson’s documentary Shakespeare Behind Bars, but also Laura Raidonis Bates, Amy Scott-Douglass, and Jonathan Shailor – have explored the value of Shakespeare as a tool for rehabilitating incarcerated criminals. Second, literary critics have made use of the insights and vocabulary of modern criminology in an attempt to understand the criminals in Shakespeare’s plays, a discourse begun by August Goll and E.E. Stoll at the start of the twentieth century, and continued somewhat sporadically in the following decades, as in Charles Adler’s case study of Richard III. These critical foci – the one on prison theatre, and the other on Shakespeare’s characters – may be successful in their stated aims, but those aims have obscured a more important line of thought, one that has yet to be explored except by Victoria Time. In Shakespeare’s Criminals: Criminology, Fiction, and Drama (1999), Time argued, provocatively, that literary writers were doing criminology before there was such a thing as criminology, an academic discourse that only emerged in the nineteenth century. Foremost among these authors was William Shakespeare, the most consistent and deliberate artist of criminal behavior before Arthur Conan Doyle. From this perspective, it is not just criminals who can benefit from Shakespeare, but also criminologists.
I contend that Shakespeare can be a valuable resource for the discipline of criminology, that he can aid criminologists in an intellectual development that is fundamental to their enterprise: the development of a more skeptical and more humane model of criminal justice. Shakespeare can do so because he expressed his ideas in the undeniably odd form of drama, where an author creates and speaks for several characters at once. As such, Shakespeare approached every issue and every instance of crime and justice from multiple angles, considering the assumptions, attitudes, opinions, actions, and reactions of all involved: of the criminals, of the victims, of the cops, of the judges, of the families of all of these, and of the public at large. For this reason, I recommend that students of criminal justice try what the Shakespearean scholar Julia Reinhard Lupton calls “thinking with Shakespeare.” Thinking with Shakespeare is particularly valuable for criminologists because Shakespeare encoded ancient philosophical ideas about crime and justice into the words and deeds of his characters: interpreting the drama takes us into the philosophy, and the philosophy provides us with the conceptual equipment for a better criminology. The elemental and lasting representations of crime that Shakespeare wrote in his plays are productive places in which to consider comparable crimes that occur in our societies, and the vast analytical resources available in Shakespeare studies can provide new and illuminating ways of thinking about crimes, ways of thinking that can be extrapolated from Shakespeare to society, ways of thinking that might not otherwise occur.
Shakespeare and Criminology is comprised of 11 chapters. The first introduces the project by narrating the classroom experience that sparked it. The second chapter gives an overview of the argument of the book and comments upon the idea of an interdisciplinary field devoted to “criminology and literature,” related to yet distinct from the “law and literature” movement. Then Chapter 3 offers some theoretical foundations for a Shakespearean approach to crime and justice: crime as drama and justice as theatre. First, Shakespeare’s drama opens up to us a criminology that takes seriously the notion of “the scene of the crime” – with its authors, actors, audiences, genres, conventions, characters, plots, costumes, props, settings, scripts, and speeches – a dramaturgy discussed in a reading of the deliberately Shakespearean structure and tenor of the most famous crime in U.S. history, John Wilkes Booth’s assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Second, scenes such as Shylock’s hearing in The Merchant of Venice and Angelo’s trial in Measure for Measure stage – literally stage – the deep theatricality of the justice system; just consider the theatrical architecture of the courthouse or the police press conference, with their front- and back-stages, their scripted speeches and improvisations, and us in the audience looking on.
After these introductory statements, Chapters 4-11 shift to some specific instances in which Shakespeare and criminology can illuminate each other. To give just a few examples, new theories of juvenile delinquency emerge by considering the case of Shakespeare’s Prince Hal, a wayward youth who only acts out to make his future success as king seem all the greater; or by considering the example of Shakespeare’s Caliban, an adolescent sexual offender whose experience in an imperfect correctional system transforms him into a militant political radical and career criminal. As a physically deformed ethnic minority, Caliban is the epitome of what the criminologist Howard Becker called an “outsider,” as are the deformed title character in Richard III, Shylock the Jew in the Merchant of Venice, and Aaron the Moor in Titus Andronicus. In each case, Shakespeare attends to the causes and effects of stigma using the rubric of revenge tragedy, a dramatic genre reaching its height in the Renaissance, and one that can provide criminologists with a remarkably resourceful logic for unpacking a great number of modern crimes. At the same time, if criminals are often motivated by revenge, so too are the law enforcement agents who oppose them, a point that is rarely acknowledged in the field of criminal justice, yet one on full display in Shakespeare’s most famous revenge tragedy, Hamlet, where the title character is both a cop and a criminal. Moreover, plays like Hamlet and Macbeth, where hallucinations spur criminals to action, offer students opportunities to consider the tension between mental illness (a psychological concept) and insanity (a legal concept), a tension that the disciplines of criminology and law have recognized but not yet resolved. While these plays address the relationship between the mind and crime, Shakespeare elsewhere emphasizes the importance of culture: rampant crime comes from a culture of honor in Titus Andronicus, for example, or from a culture of negligence in Measure for Measure.
The final chapter meditates on the “genre” of criminal justice: that is, on the conventions of assigning certain plots to certain character types. The first section of this chapter considers criminal justice as tragedy, insofar as it is filled with ambition, revenge, and great and powerful people (mostly men) making slight yet costly mistakes, what Aristotle called hamartia, or “error.” The second section considers criminal justice as comedy in a reading that juxtaposes Dogberry, the inept constable in Much Ado About Nothing, with the modern stereotype of the “dumb cob.” And the final section addresses criminal justice as tragicomedy by positioning what the literary critic F.S. Boas called Shakespeare’s “problem plays” in relation to what the criminologist Frank Schmalleger calls the “social problems perspective” on criminology and criminal justice.
With its interdisciplinary scope, Shakespeare and Criminology has the potential to impact multiple fields of scholarship. First and foremost, I expect the project to contribute to discussions of the value of Shakespeare, and of literature more generally, for inquiry in the social sciences, especially insofar as a conceptualization of the study of culture as a “scientific” endeavor can obscure the “humanistic” element of culture attended to in literary studies and other fields in the humanities. Additionally, Shakespeare and Criminology includes the first attempt to theorize a scholarly field of “criminology and literature,” a fruitful field for future research. I also expect Shakespeare and Criminology to enrich on-going discussions of the objectives and methods of criminal justice education, especially insofar as pedagogy, not theory, is the pinnacle of criminal justice scholarship, or so I argue. Furthermore, with of its attention to the theatricality of both crime and justice, Shakespeare and Criminology aims to play a role in shaping debates about how criminal justice is mediated for us through film, computer, television, and telephone screens, an issue first opened up by Ray Surette’s magisterial Media, Crime, and Criminal Justice. Finally, I expect Shakespeare and Criminology to make a significant contribution to the attempt to make criminal justice a more philosophical endeavor, an endeavor that carries on the tradition of the criminologist Stanley Cohen and one that informs recent attempts to bring the liberal arts to “Introduction to Criminal Justice” courses (see, for example, Owen, Fradella, Burke, and Joplin’s Foundations of Criminal Justice).