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01 April 2016

For pity is the virtue of the law

To coincide with King’s Cultural Institute’s By Me William Shakespeare: A Life in Writing, The Dickson Poon School of Law commissioned its 2015-16 Honorary Artist, David Borrington, to create the artwork for the three banners that are displayed in the Law School’s iconic stairwells.

Somerset House
Somerset House

April 2016 – December 2016 

Working with one of the School’s academics, Professor Lorenzo Zucca, Borrington chose three topics to work on for each banner: allusions to Shakespeare’s work in English legal and political life; a copy of Shakespeare’s Complete Works that was passed around Robben Island; and finally, a view of legal London related to Shakespeare’s life and times. Professor Zucca teaches a module on the legal aspects of Shakespeare’s work. This project was designed in support of his research. 

The first banner in the series, focusing on English legal and political life, draws on ten of Shakespeare’s plays, weaving references into current affairs from the crisis in Syria to the rise of the far right in the UK. For example, the banner begins with a reference to a version of Hamlet that was staged at a refugee camp in Calais earlier this year. Borrington focuses on the famous play-within-a-play scene, showing certain key political figures looking over the performance with ambivalence. The banner then displays similar allusions taking place in different locations such as outside the Royal Courts of Justice and the Houses of Parliament, where the spectacle of theatre, the law and current affairs take place on grander stages. 

Borrington also chose to explore the Robben Island Bible – a copy of Shakespeare’s plays that was shared among the inmates of the notorious South African prison. Upon the end of Apartheid, each former inmate was asked to sign their names next to their favorite passages and the book is now exhibited all over the world. The banner focuses on the history of Robben Island, once again drawing on Shakespeare’s prefiguring of ideas that would help shape legal and literary history. 

The final banner in the series presents a view of legal London while bringing together the formation of the Globe Theatre and the history of Somerset House. It depicts the Inner Temple, Middle Temple, Grey’s Inn and Lincoln’s Inn, while also presenting famous events and figures related to these institutions. These include people associated with the Inns, such as Sir Thomas Moore and Sir Walter Raleigh to Inigo Jones and William Chambers, two of Somerset House’s most well know architects. 

Finally, on Floor -2 the original artworks are on display. They are drawn on vellum, a parchment that was prevalent in Shakespeare’s time and which is still used in the government’s drafting of bills. 

For pity is the virtue of the law was produced by The Dickson Poon School of Law in association with King’s Cultural Institute.