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Jennifer Piurek
University Communications

Last modified: Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Mock trial puts IU professors on the stand as characters from Shakespeare

Trial will mark culmination of IU's first Shakespeare and the Law Intensive Freshman Seminar

Aug. 5, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University students enrolled in the new "Shakespeare and the Law" Intensive Freshman Seminar will take part in open-to-the-public mock murder trials based on Hamlet and Macbeth at the historic Monroe County Courthouse, Aug. 20, at 9:30 a.m.

Eve Brown

Photo by Aaron Bernstein

Eve Brown

Print-Quality Photo

Under the tutelage of Eve Brown -- the business law lecturer at IU's Kelley School of Business who created the course -- the students will spend their three-hour classes (Monday through Friday, Aug. 3-20) learning the basics about law, Shakespeare and college life at IU, all while having the chance to acclimate to campus life.

IU's Intensive Freshman Seminars (IFS) take place during the weeks leading to the fall semester, which this year begins Aug. 31. IFS topics range from graphic novels to politics and are taught in groups of 20 or fewer students. In addition to classes and tours of Bloomington, IFS courses take part through field trips such as outdoor movies, theatrical and musical events, pool parties and community service programs.

Brown first conceived of the "Shakespeare and the Law" class when she was a practicing attorney in San Diego. When her husband completed his Ph.D. program and landed a position at IU Bloomington, she took the move as an opportunity for a career change.

"I started opening up my mind and thinking, 'If I don't practice law, what would be my dream job? What would I want to do if I could do anything in the world?'" Brown majored in English literature in undergraduate school and spent six months in London studying Shakespeare during her junior year of college.

"I started wondering how I could merge my two seemingly unrelated passions -- literature and law. Out of that came the concept of orchestrating mock trials based on famous works of literature. Shakespeare was a natural place to start, both because of my own educational background, and because every one of his tragedies includes at least one murder. Shakespeare's characters are also incredibly complex and multi-dimensional, lending themselves to differing interpretations and in-depth study."

The first week of the course will focus on how to do opening statements, cross-examinations, direct examinations and closing arguments, and how to develop a case theory. Practicing local attorneys, including Rebecca Veidlinger of the Monroe County Prosecutor's office, will talk to the class about strategy and public speaking.

By the second week, students will have read both Hamlet and Macbeth and chosen one to work with, said Brown. They'll learn how to apply Shakespeare's plays to the law they've learned and, in turn, how to make a case from the information in the plays.

"It will require the students to analyze these plays from a new perspective, and to shift their thinking patterns away from entrenched or conventional interpretations to innovative and fresh solutions. In doing so, students will have the chance to explore all sides of an argument, challenge preconceived ideas, and learn to articulately persuade audiences to support their position."

During the third week, students will prepare for the actual trial, including conducting depositions of witnesses such as Ophelia, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, Polonius, the Three Witches and others played by IU professors (including Associate Professor Joel Rubin as Hamlet, and a married couple from the Department of Theatre and Drama, Assistant Professor Amy Cook and Visiting Professor Ken Weitzman, as Lady Macbeth and Macbeth). The trial will play out in the public arena of the historic downtown Monroe County Courthouse.

Brown will devote an hour at the end of each class to talking about adjusting to college life. Students will hear from a nutritionist about feeding themselves healthfully, as well as hearing ideas for keeping a life/class/homework balance, and gaining and thinking about how to peacefully coexist with people from vastly different political backgrounds. Brown also plans to take her students to various ethnic restaurants in downtown Bloomington, as well as to theatrical productions and a tour of IU Auditorium.

Students entered the class Monday, Aug. 3, having completed their first assignment, a defense of a literary character who the student felt has been misunderstood or unfairly vilified. "Hopefully, this assignment will get students used to seeing characters on a page as living beings," said Brown prior to the start of IFS. "Students will have to put themselves in a character's shoes. That's the kind of perspective they will need when they are prosecuting and defending their Shakespearean clients."

By the end of the seminar, she hopes this crop of new IU freshmen feel more comfortable on campus -- and that they have developed their own critical thinking skills. "I want students to switch over from high school -- where you usually memorize whatever your teacher tells you -- to college, where you're expected to think critically about things, evaluate what you hear and make your own conclusions. Shakespeare is a great way to teach them to do that."