Fall 2012

The Poetics of Possession

Listed in: Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought, as LJST-346

Moodle site: Course


Stephanie Elsky (Section 01)


This class explores the connections between law and literature by considering how the past imagined and represented possession, authority, and identity when a range of modern theories that are available to us now were only beginning to emerge. We will take 16th- and 17th-century England as our case study, asking the following questions: What role did property play in constructing identity before the formation of the modern individual subject? How could identity be rooted in property before the emergence of modern theories of property? How did this period imagine the figure of the “author” in the absence of copyright law? Finally, what role did poets and playwrights have in defining the meaning of property and possession, authority and authorship, and to what extent is possession itself a poetic concept? This course will seek to address these questions by exploring legal and literary representations of temporality and personhood; spatiality, nationhood, and empire; and of the possibility (and impossibility) of transforming thoughts and imaginative creations into possessions. We will read parliamentary debates and legal theory and cases alongside utopian fictions, mock last will and testaments, romances, and stage dramas, focusing on these issues as literary problems whose resolutions involve both poetic techniques and an appeal to the artistic imagination. Finally, we will consider law and literature as domains of possibility wherein alternatives to possession – commonality, collaboration, friendship – are glimpsed and imagined, and thus provoke us to examine our own contemporary understanding of these central modern categories.

Limited to 15 students. Fall semester. Visiting Professor Elsky.

Cost: 13.47 ?


2017-18: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2012