CL6329: Law and Literature

School Cardiff Law School
Department Code LAWPL
Module Code CL6329
External Subject Code M290
Number of Credits 30
Level L6
Language of Delivery English
Module Leader Professor John Harrington
Semester Double Semester
Academic Year 2016/7

Outline Description of Module

This module introduces students to the techniques of Law and Literature. It takes two approaches.

First: studying literary works, including film, drama and popular culture, for the way in which they represent legal problems and the operation of law. Literature can be used in this way to provide a critical external perspective on the effectiveness and morality of law and on its political context. It can show the presuppositions underlying particular legal doctrines (eg. mens rea) and areas of law (eg. family law).

Second: reading the law itself as a form of literature. This approach challenges the common view that legal reasoning is a wholly logical matter, uninfluenced by social and cultural contexts, and offering the possibility of a single clear answer to disputes. Instead we treat law as a form of rhetoric, an exercise in persuasion using particular forms and figures to persuade audiences of the desirability of a specific reform or decision. Using techniques of literary criticism it is possible to identify distinct judicial styles and the common sense assumptions that underlie their decisions, as well as the interventions of academics and legislators.

The module offers a lively and engaging means of studying the relationship between law and society, the ethical dimensions of legal problems and the nature of legal methods. Material studied includes children’s stories, extracts from novels, films and plays. Where appropriate workshops are organized as part of the syllabus to allow students to meet and engage with theatre companies and other artists performing material relevant to the module.

In addition classes will focus on a explore key articles on the objectives and methods of law and literature, and on the close reading from a literary point of view of prominent court decisions and other legal texts.

On completion of the module a student should be able to

  • appreciate and analyse possible legal and ethical implications of different texts and other artistic works;


  • demonstrate detailed/comprehensive knowledge of legal concepts and their contextual/social/political implications as evidenced by literary and legal sources;


  • demonstrate understanding and critical awareness of relationship between concepts in law and ethics and to show how this relationship manifests in literary and legal contexts;


  • identify basic differences in terms of form and purpose between law and literature;


  • evaluate theoretical and practical issues of legal and ethical knowledge;


  • demonstrate critical understanding of comparative and alternative frameworks for understanding legal problems;


  • analyse and evaluate legal texts and interventions in law as rhetorical performances.

How the module will be delivered

The module will be delivered through 12 x one hour lectures and 12 x two hour seminars.

Lectures will introduce the different topics, focussing on key questions of methodology, critical and theoretical context and broader relevance to legal dilemmas.

Seminars are the venue for active, critical engagement by students with literary, cultural and legal materials.

Seminars will be organized around group work. Groups tasks will include the following: oral presentations; introducing and critiquing relevant literary works or legal texts; participating in and chairing debates on given topics; summarizing the work of the whole seminar group in written form and posting this to a blog to be hosted on the module Learning Central pages. Groups will be asked to prepare these tasks in advance of class. They will receive detailed guidance on this through Learning Central. 

Student groups will be supported and advised by class teachers, who will be present throughout seminars.

Feedback on seminar work and further reflections on the material covered will be provided by way of podcasts at the end of each seminar cycle.

Module teachers will arrange for electronic distribution of materials and presentation of films (where these are set for the module) in compliance with copyright rules. 

Skills that will be practised and developed

Students will practice and develop the following intellectual, practical and transferrable skills:


  • draw from a range of primary and secondary reading materials in both law and literature to identify key areas of legal, ethical and political controversy;


  • independently identify relevant primary and secondary sources on topics in law and literature for the purposes of writing an essay, report or presenting an informed oral opinion;


  • give a clear, confident and informed oral response to a question based on a taught or independently researched topic in law and literature in a manner that would be appropriate for a professional environment;


  • reflect on the construction and presentation of arguments, both written and spoken, drawing on theories of rhetoric;


  • take responsibility for structuring, managing and reporting, orally and/or in writing, a small research project;


  • use a range of electronic source materials and demonstrate a professional level of competency in IT skills when preparing and presenting written material.

How the module will be assessed

Students will be required to write two x 3000 word papers for their summative assessment.  These are both be submitted at the end of the second semester. Students chose two from a list of essay titles which reflect the content of the module. They will also have the option to write on one or two topics of their own choosing. Prior consultation with the module leaders and their agreement is required in the latter case.

There will also submit two x 800 word papers for formative assessment, on in the first semester, the other in the second. Students may select from lists of titles or write on a topic of their choosing on approval.

Assessment Breakdown

Type % Title Duration(hrs)
Written Assessment 50 Law And Literature - Essay 1 N/A
Written Assessment 50 Law And Literature - Essay 2 N/A

Syllabus content

1 Purposes and Methods of Law and Literature: A Hunger Artist (Franz Kafka, short story 1922).


2 Solidarity and Human Reproduction: Never Let Me Go (Kazuo Ishiguro novel 2005, Dir. Marek Romanek film 2010).


3 Rhetoric in Law and Politics from Cicero to Barack Obama.


5 Critical Rhetorical Reading of Case Law: R v Cambridgeshire HA, ex parte B (CA 1995)


6 Legal Utopias: Lord Denning’s ‘Pastoral Vision’ (Dennis Klinck, article 1994).


7 Property as Performance (Nick Blomley, article 2013).


8 Law and Property in Children’s Literature Brer Rabbit (Enid Blyton, story 1948).


9 Law, Labour and Colonialism: God’s Bits of Wood (Ousmane Sembene, novel 1960).


10 Law, Language and Power: Translations (Brian Friel, drama 1980).

Essential Reading and Resource List

There is no single textbook for this module. As well as the specific literary works, films and drama studied on the module, students will draw on the following core and additional texts which deal with law and literature:

Essential Reading

N Blomley, ‘Performing Property: Making the World’ (2013) 26 Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence 23.

D Gurnham, Memory, Imagination, Justice: Intersections of Law and Literature (Farnham: Ashgate 2009) c.5.

R West, ‘Authority, Autonomy and Choice: The Role of Consent in the Moral and Political Visions of Franz

Kafka and Richard Posner’, 99 Harvard Law Review 384 (1985-1986).

I Ward, Law and Literature: Possibilities and Perspectives (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2008)

D Klinck, ‘”This Other Eden”. Lord Denning’s Pastoral Vision’ (1994) 14 Oxford Journal of Legal Studies 25-55.

RA Posner, Law and Literature (3rd ed Cambridge [Mass]: Harvard University Press 2009).

P Goodrich, Reading the Law: A Critical Introduction to Legal Method and Techniques (London Blackwells 1986).

M Freeman (ed) Current Legal Issues: Law and Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2003).

Background Reading and Resource List

M Aristodemou, Law and Literature: Journeys from Her to Eternity (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2001).

K Dolin, A Critical Introduction to Law and Literature (Cambridge Cambridge University Press 2011).

MDA Freeman & A Lewis (eds), Law and Literature: Current Legal Issues Volume 2 (Oxford: Oxford University Press 1999).

Aristotle, The Art of Rhetoric (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1991).

R Barthes, The Semiotic Challenge (Berkeley, Los Angeles, University of California Press, 1994).

P Brooks & P Gewirtz, Law’s Stories (New Haven, London: Yale University Press 1996).

Cicero, On the Ideal Orator (De Oratore) (New York: Oxford University Press 2001).

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