Berkeley Law dean, Stanford professor to argue case of Shakespeare’s friar


Publish Date:
January 19, 2022
Daily Californian
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Whether Friar Laurence is guilty of criminal charges will be litigated March 5 at the Freight and Salvage in Berkeley, where UC Berkeley School of Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky and Stanford Law School professor Bernadette Meyler will argue the case before retired U.S. District Court judge Andrew Guilford. The show, “Romeo, Juliet and the Case of Friar Laurence,” will be acted and directed by members of UC Irvine’s New Swan Shakespeare company and produced by Berkeley Law.


The New Swan Shakespeare company has presented similar shows recently, including a trial of Hamlet, Marcus Brutus from “Julius Caesar” and Shylock from “The Merchant of Venice.”

Meyler served as counsel opposite Chemerinksy in the trial of Brutus last year. It has not yet been decided who will advocate on the friar’s behalf and what charges will be filed.

“We’re trying him under contemporary legal standards,” Meyler said. “One interesting phenomenon is that there was nothing like manslaughter in historical common law context. It was either murder or not murder, and pardon power was often used to mitigate charges.”

Meyler teaches British and American common law and is the author of a recent book about 17th-century drama and political theory. She also has a doctorate in English literature from UC Irvine, where she studied under Lupton.

Meyler, too, expects to prepare extensively, noting last year’s show required research into not only the evidence appearing in the play but also the historical and political context.

Meyler said she came to these Shakespeare trials as a skeptic but found that last year’s show raised interesting questions.

“Staging the trial of the character in a play foregrounds a lot of issues that were relevant in Shakespeare’s time and even more relevant today,” Meyler said. “It brings us a little bit closer to the questions and values that underlie his drama.”

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