Electronic Theses and Dissertations



Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Committee Chair

Joshua Phillip

Committee Member

Catherine G Martin

Committee Member

Darryl Domingo

Committee Member

Carey Mickalites


My dissertation joins a vibrant conversation in the intersection of literature and law to investigate the changing attitude towards the royal prerogative as it relates to law, mercy, and equity in the English early modern period. The royal prerogative, the sovereigns rights and privileges under English law, has long been a contentious aspect of the British legal system with many attempts over the centuries to limit the use of these powers. During Tudor times, royal prerogative was closely associated with the courts of Chancery and Star Chamber, which were highly regarded courts of equity. However, the same courts became associated with corruption during the Stuartss reign, and Star Chamber was eventually abolished by the Long Parliament. Using current theoretical concepts of authority, particularly Giorgio Agambens homo sacer series, I examine how Edmund Spenser, William Shakespeare, and John Milton portrayed the societal shift in writings that appeared concurrently with major events related to the English monarchy. Specifically, I examine ideas about law, mercy, and equity and their relation to royal prerogative in Book V of Spensers The Faerie Queene, Shakespeares Henry V and Macbeth, and Miltons Paradise Lost to argue that these authors use legal language in their works to characterize the shifting nature of sovereign justice. Closely examining their rhetorical moves also reveals their attempts at affecting policy and making the shift towards reduced prerogative powers and legally limited sovereignty, the powers now assigned the executive branch of government. I believe that actively engaging with these authors and their ideas about authority and justice is important for understanding and giving us perspective on our own issues of violence and legality that have surged in recent history, especially as they relate to extraordinary powers.


Data is provided by the student.

Library Comment

Dissertation or thesis originally submitted to ProQuest


Open Access