Twitter, King Lear, and the Freedom of Speech, by John Curtis, and Judicial Allusion as Ornament: A Response to John Curtis’s, ‘Twitter, King Lear, and the Freedom of Speech’ by Professor Gary Watt

John Curtis, Gary Watt


Shakespeare, Law Courts, Twitter, literary allusion
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On 27 July 2012, in his judgment following ‘The Twitter Joke Trial’, the Lord Chief Justice of England & Wales quoted from King Lear (Folio).  The trial was the first time a British Court had considered the use of Twitter in the context of a bomb hoax.  The judgment was hailed as ‘a victory for common sense’, reversing decisions of two lower courts.  It now provides authority against similar prosecutions.  This paper argues that the use of a four-hundred-year-old Shakespearean text in negotiating modern legal principles is of considerable cultural significance – both through using the familiar to respond to the new – and by invoking Shakespeare’s voice within the powerful social mechanism of the law courts.  It also considers the advantages and disadvantages of literary allusions within legal proceedings, contrasting these two widely reported judgments.

This piece is adapted from a transcript of: King Lear, Twitter and the Da Vinci Code given as part of the Sidelights on Shakespeare lecture series at University of Warwick on 29 November 2013.

Professor Gary Watt provides a response to Curtis's critical reflection, considering judicial allusion as logic or ornament. 

Image: Cordelia in the Court of King Lear, Sir John Gilbert (1873)


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