May 16, 2007

"What Shakespeare is to the high school English student, the society's accepted constitutional traditions are to the prudent jurist."

Said Antonin Scalia (in Oregon last month, as recounted in this nicely written article):
"I call this the Shakespeare principle, because it represents, within the realm of law, a proper sense of priorities that I learned in high school within the realm of literature," he said in his keynote. "I had a tough old English teacher who made an enormous impression upon my life by explaining the Shakespeare principle to one of my classmates ... who in our classroom discussion of Hamlet made the mistake of volunteering some sophomoric, ill-founded criticism of the play. This teacher looked at him for a moment and then uttered the line that has ever since seemed to me a pretty good guide in many areas of life and work: 'Mister,' he said, 'when you read Shakespeare, Shakespeare's not on trial. You are.'"

When the justice got rolling, he not only named the poor student, but broke into a New York accent when quoting his former teacher. It brought the house down.

"What Shakespeare is to the high school English student," Scalia said, "the society's accepted constitutional traditions are to the prudent jurist.

"He does not judge them, but is judged by them. The very test of the validity of his analytic formulas—his rules—is whether, when applied to traditional situations, they yield the results that American society has traditionally accepted."

22 comments:

Balfegor said...

"What Shakespeare is to the high school English student," Scalia said, "the society's accepted constitutional traditions are to the prudent jurist.

Is this . . . an actual high school English student, the average across all high school English students, or some theoretical Platonic ideal of the high school English student, for whom Shakespeare is not merely an incomprehensible chore, sound, fury, gibberish, etc?

MadisonMan said...

Echoing Balfegor, the prudent jurist seeks to avoid constitutional traditions at all costs? Or just finds the Cliff Notes version?

David53 said...

Scalia is the MAN!

Joshua said...

If you want a banality, pompously expressed, Scalia's your man.

Methadras said...

I'm just glad that someone like Justice Scalia, when asked whether or not foreign law has any place in determining a proper interpretation of the American Constitution, he says NO!

Jeff said...

More patriarchal Dead White Male worship from the neanderthal right!

Methadras said...

Jeff said...

More patriarchal Dead White Male worship from the neanderthal right!


It's this type of textual nonsense that relegates you and your ridiculous ideological philosophies to the far fringes of outer space. Do you even think before you type or is this just an ingrained knee-jerk reaction that a nut like you experiences between each blinking of an eye?

PatCA said...

I think it's a wonderful quote.

The lefties here illustrate perfectly how we have moved from inclusion of minorities to exclusion and even hatred of white male humans.

Bigotry will always be with us, I guess.

Joshua said...

Good troll, Jeff. Methadras ate it up. 10/10.

Freder Frederson said...

His teacher was right about Shakespeare. He is 100% wrong on the analogy.

Bissage said...

Back in the day, I was a theater major and I took an undergrad course called “The History of Theater.” I still remember the instructor proclaiming that “Shakespeare was a master poet but a lousy dramatist, even by the standards of his own time.” That instructor held a doctorate, and he was also an accomplished stage actor who knew how to make a big impression, and I was all impressified.

But you know what? He never offered an alternate author to serve as the model dramatist. Chekhov? Strindberg? Ibsen? Pirandello? Wilde? Shaw? Artaud? Ionesco? Beckett? Williams? Miller? Osborne? Pinter?

I haven’t a clue.

And you know what? I never became a playwright.

I was so confused, I never really tried.

Maybe I should track him down and ask for my money back.

Ron said...

Shakespeare Thrall? Ugh!

I spent my high school years busting the chops of edu-thugs who begin sentences with "Mister."

All that Greek Philosophy is for nothing if we get sucker-punched by Macbeth. And even worse -- we do Bill no credit.

Simon said...

"The very test of the validity of his analytic formulas—his rules—is whether, when applied to traditional situations, they yield the results that American society has traditionally accepted.""

True enough as a general proposition, but as Scalia well knows, this is somewhat overstated; he (and I) "argue for the role of tradition in giving content only to ambiguous constitutional text; no tradition can supersede the Constitution." Rutan v. Republican Party of Illinois, 497 U.S. 63 at at 96 n.1 (1990) (Scalia, J., dissenting). While it's unlikely to occur, if the original meaning of a provision is discerned with clarity to be at odds with two hundred years of practise but no authoritative precedent, it's the tradition, not the text, that must yield.

Methadras said...

Joshua said...

Good troll, Jeff. Methadras ate it up. 10/10.


Gobble, gobble. Hey Joshua, don't you ever get tired of having to replace your knee-pads all the time?

LutherM said...

"What Shakespeare is to the high school English student," Scalia said, "the society's accepted constitutional traditions are to the prudent jurist."
But some among us want the students to "leave the fictional material for after hours" and just teach "history, science, law, logic - something ..substantive."
Why do I think Scalia has more than a scintilla of wisdom, while people who believe in eschewing the teaching of Shakespeare are at least temporarily devoid of sense?

MadisonMan said...

To link this to an earlier comment thread -- how much Shakespeare can a school teach if it's busy trying to meet NCLB standards? Not much.

Trevor said...

Poor Scalia. So much of his time wasted! He could have been learning to paint or dance or watch movies instead of reading that fiction! "When you watch Josey Wales," his analogy could have gone, "Clint Eastwood's not on trial. You are."

That's so much less boring!

Palladian said...

"Why do I think Scalia has more than a scintilla of wisdom, while people who believe in eschewing the teaching of Shakespeare are at least temporarily devoid of sense?"

I don't think (I may be wrong in my interpretation) Althouse said that- I think she believes in eschewing novels, fictional prose. If so, I whole-heartedly agree. Up with Shakespeare, down with Jane Austen!

Peter Palladas said...

"What Shakespeare is to the high school English student," Scalia said, "the society's accepted constitutional traditions are to the prudent jurist.

Beautiful but criminally naive. The average English secondary - not high - school pupil - not student - has at best the haziest notion of who Shakespeare is let alone the plays what he wrote. (Ernie Wise passim.)

We have surrendered all our history. We are a barbaric land and people.

Howard said...

Shakespeare? You jest. It has been banned by most school districts by now because the feminists claim his plays are sexist, and Blacks claim they are racist. Check it out. "Oh what a peasant slave am I?" is now but a memory for old white guys; the preferred being something to do with ho's, niggahs, and MFs.

TMink said...

"Was it a millionaire who said "Imagine no posession?"
A poor little school boy said
"We don't need no lessons."

Shakespeare rocks. As does Scalia.

Dead white men are the bomb.

Trey

John Kindley said...

What is our most fundamental "constitutional tradition," the one that confers any legitimacy a government might claim to have in the first place?

"That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the CONSENT OF THE GOVERNED."

Now, when did any of us consent to the government or particular powers it exercises over us? For a good lawyerly analysis of this question, check out Lysander Spooner's classic "No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority," available at www.lysanderspooner.org, a website created by law prof and Volokh Conspiracy contributor Randy Barnett. I also tentatively (because I'm still in the process of reading it) recommend Barnett's extensive riff on "No Treason"'s argument, "Restoring the Lost Constitution."