As a young man, Kenji Yoshino was torn between pursuing “justice represented in fiction”—literature—or “justice itself.” He chose the latter and is now a professor at New York University School of Law. He tells us in his new book, A Thousand Times More Fair, that the law is, like literature, merely a “set of stories.” He has come to believe that William Shakespeare’s writing in particular “illuminates” many “contemporary issues of justice,” and that the study of Shakespeare is a way to complete a legal education. “Practically every idea I ever had,” he writes, is “contained” in Shakespeare.
Yoshino examines nine plays; each is taken to represent a “timeless” legal problem that we still struggle with. Measure for Measure, he says, explores the judge’s duty to steer between “pure empathy” (too lax) and “pure law” (too harsh). President Barack Obama, he points out, said in nominating Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court that “empathy” was the ideal judicial quality; a consultation with Measure for Measure might have tempered that statement. For him, Othello exemplifies the problems of fact-finding and evidence. The strawberry-spotted handkerchief, Othello’s fateful “ocular proof” of the affair between his wife and Cassio, deluded him as surely as the supposedly ill-fitting glove deluded the jury that acquitted O.J. Simpson. The Henriad (Richard II, the two Henry IV plays, and Henry V) teaches us “how a ruler establishes legitimacy,” a story we saw for ourselves as George W., the one-time carouser, became President Bush, the sober statesman.
About the Author
Joseph Tartakovsky is a contributing editor at the Claremont Review of Books.