How many lawyers does it take to screw in a light bulb? Depends; how many can you afford? The popular image of lawyers is taking a beating. Ironically, at a time when more people than ever hire lawyers, few want to defend them. Daniel Kornstein, a practicing attorney, finds in Shakespeare's drama the way toward a new respect for the profession and its place in contemporary society. It is no wonder that lawyers and judges quote the Bard more than any other single source. Two-thirds of Shakespeare's plays have trial scenes; many deal specifically with points of law and lawyers. The Elizabethan age seems as litigious as our own. Inspired by numerous performances of Shakespeare, Kornstein considers how legal themes relate to contemporary issues. Of Measure for Measure Kornstein points out, "Then, as now, we have thought about how much public support and respect law needs, whether or not to enforce dead letter statutes, and if it is better to interpret laws strictly or equitably. Then, as now, all of us have considered the effect of power on human nature, how judges may be corrupt, and how important mercy is."
By discussing the plays in light of contemporary legal cases, Kornstein provokes thought about how law and civil justice are woven into modern society, just as they are on Shakespeare's stage. In Shakespeare, as in no other playwright, law, civil society, and humanity unite with dramatic and rhetorical brilliance. Kornstein shows how our reacquaintance with the master playwright may kindle our enthusiasm for law in our age. His objective, as a lawyer and playgoer, is to make the connections between law and literature, between the challenges of daily legal practice and the pleasures of art.