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Leaders, Courtiers and Command Responsibility in Shakespeare

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Chapter Summary

This chapter addresses some issues of professional and ethical responsibility through the focus of Shakespeare's plays. Ben Jonson said that Shakespeare was a man "not of an age, but for all time". The chapter suggests some ways in which that is certainly true of Shakespeare's penetrating depictions of leaders who commit crimes. We see in his work the intellectual and moral compromises made by legal advisors faced with a national leader's determination to undertake acts of dubious legality. The chapter connects these themes to contemporary currents in the international jurisprudence of the law of war. The first Shakespearean illustration discussed here is King John's order to his servant Hubert to eliminate Prince Arthur, who presents a risk to John's entitlement to the crown of England. The chapter describes the overlapping issues of responsibility for acts of subordinates and for actions a leader had the power to prevent.

Keywords: Ben Jonson; England; King John; law of war; Shakespeare's plays



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