The Use of Legal Concepts in 'A Cure for a Cuckold'

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Recent research into the relationship between law and literature in early modern England has offered fresh insights into the ways in which legal culture helped to shape fictional narratives and representative strategies. Often combining fruitfully with gender criticism, this scholarship has produced readings of John Webster’s great tragedies, ‘The Duchess of Malfi’ and ‘The White Devil’, which have highlighted how the law might inhibit women’s freedom to act. In contrast, the comedy A Cure for a Cuckold (1624), which Webster co-authored with William Rowley, sees men, women and children benefiting from legal tricks. This article discusses how legally informed criticism can make this play accessible to modern audiences, moving from earlier historicist explication of topical legal references to recent formalist investigations of the relationship between forensic narrative and theatrical representation. It is argued that even more attention should be paid to the historical conditions that shaped this play’s rich comic manoeuvres. In 1624, Parliament passed new legislation on usury and infanticide of relevance to themes of ‘using’ and child care featured in this play. Also in that year, the renewal of hostility with Spain led to renewed sympathy for maritime privateers. A Cure for a Cuckold shows how the law may be ‘redeemed’, transforming conventional legal approaches to piracy, usury and illegitimacy into fortuitous investment opportunities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)363-375
Number of pages13
JournalLiterature Compass
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2011


  • Drama
  • Law and Literature
  • John Webster
  • William Rowley
  • usury


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