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Thursday's Tome

I thought this week we'd take a break from the strictly legal resources and look at a more lighthearted source.  We all know that the law comes from statutes or cases or the common law . . . but oftentimes it can be tedious to learn about all of it that way.  So here's a recommendation that deals with law -- but is first and foremost a story.

William Shakespeare wrote The Merchant of Venice between 1596 and 1598.  This fantastic tale of Antonio and his friend Bassanio, suitor to the Lady Portia, and their travails with Shylock the Jew, is a thrilling and rich treat for readers of all ages.  Each time I soak in the immortal words, I gain a deeper understanding of all the nuances therein.

The most famous scene (as far as lawyers are concerned at least) is at the end in Act IV, Scene I.  Antonio owes Shylock a large sum of money, and he bargained that if he could not repay his debt, Shylock could take a "pound of flesh" from Antonio.  In this scene, Shylock and Antonio are before the Duke debating their relative claims under this contract.  The Lady Portia (in disguise) approaches as a lawyer on behalf of Antonio.  She states that the contract cannot be changed:

It must not be; there is no power in Venice
Can alter a decree established:
'Twill be recorded for a precedent,
And many an error by the same example
Will rush into the state: it cannot be.

Shylock thinks he has won the day and approaches Antonio with a knife to carve out his pound of flesh, but Portia continues:

Tarry a little; there is something else.
This bond doth give thee here no jot of blood;
The words expressly are 'a pound of flesh:'
Take then thy bond, take thou thy pound of flesh;
But, in the cutting it, if thou dost shed
One drop of Christian blood, thy lands and goods
Are, by the laws of Venice, confiscate
Unto the state of Venice.

In one short statement, Portia eliminates Shylock's ability to claim his pound of flesh because it is impossible to do so without taking blood also.  

To an aspiring lawyer, this clever analysis of the letter of the contract symbolizes the brilliance they hope to one day attain as lawyers.  So if you're feeling blue and stressed from your legal studies, take a moment to read The Merchant of Venice and find your inspiration restored.

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