The play of law: comparing performances in law and theatre

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Rogers, N 2008, ‘The play of law: comparing performances in law and theatre’, Queensland University of Technology Law Journal, vol. 8, no. 2, pp. 429-443.

The original article has been published in the QUT Law and Justice Journal 2008,, vol. 8, no. 2. The article as it appears at that site is the only authorised version of this article. The copyright in the print and electronic appearance of the article are held by QUT and the copyright in the content of the article is held by the author.

Published version available from: http://www.law.qut.edu.au/ljj/editions/v8n2/

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I am undertaking an investigation into the interrelationship between law and theatre. I shall explore the interrelationship between law and theatre by considering case studies in which legal performances have been re-presented or reproduced as theatre. Such case studies demonstrate that there are certain undeniable similarities between law and theatre. In both disciplines, performance and thus play, albeit very different forms of play, are central. Yet there are fundamental differences between legal and theatrical performances. I shall examine these differences, arriving, finally, at violence: legal performances are anchored in violence and theatrical performances are not. A comparison between law and theatre is not a purely whimsical one. Increasingly, as Giorgio Agamben has asserted, modern Western societies resemble a Schmittian ‘state of exception’ in which the rule of law has become powerless in the face of arbitrary acts of violence on the part of the executive and the language of exceptionalism has become commonplace. Contemporary legal performances in the form of highly mediatised terror trials are examples of state-orchestrated spectacle, in which the violence of the state is brought to bear upon the enemy: individuals who themselves have not yet committed acts of terrorism but who are easily identifiable as terrorists due to racial and/or religious characteristics. In such a context, the question of whether and, if so, how, legal performances can be uncoupled from state violence is worth exploring. I shall argue that re-positioning the play of law in more playful contexts offers imaginative possibilities for such an uncoupling.

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