A theatre of knowledge: Law and justice on show in old book titles

Logo Theatra - Welt und Wissen auf der BühneTheatrical representations of a trial can enthrall an audience. Even when you know actual proceedings were different you are lured into understanding matters in the way they are played in the theatre. Authors and publishers were not slow to realize the attraction of the theatre for book titles. In a German research project several books with the word “theatre” in their title printed between 1500 and 1800 have been brought together. Among them is a considerable number of books concerning law and justice. The project was finished a few years ago, but I think it is worth looking at here.

The right title

Logo HAB

The project at the heart of this post has been supported by the Herzog August Bibliothek (HAB) in Wolfenbüttel. Earlier on I had not really noticed this project at the website of this research library with a focus on Early Modern and baroque literature. However, in the end this notice did awake my curiosity. Scholars from the Universität Kassel worked together with the staff of the HAB to create the project Welt und Wissen auf der Bühne – Theatrum-Literatur der frühen Neuzeit. “World and Knowledge on Stage – Theatrum-Literature of the Early Modern Period”.

The metaphor of the theatre helped to create a visual image for multiple purpose, not just constructing a setting but also the disposition and communication of knowledge. Apart from “Theater” and “Theatrum” authors and publishers used words such as Schau-Bühne and Schauplatz, and of course other languages used their own versions of these words, for example théâtre, teatro, schouwtoneel and schouwplaats. Apart from works in German, French and English Dutch, Spanish and Italian works were within the orbit of the project, The project at Wolfenbüttel aimed at creating a portal with bibliographical information and direct access to some 200 titles. Despite this multilingual starting point the project website is only accessible in German, in clear contrast with the HAB’s website which can be viewed in German, English and some pages even in Latin. At the project website you can go directly to each of the digitized works, execute a full text search in all titles or in a particular work, or visit first the repertory and benefit from the information about the works brought together here.

Title page There is no shorter way to view the qualities of the project than starting to look at a particular work. I have chosen a work by Peter Dahlmann, his Historischer Schauplatz Vornehmer und berühmter Staats- und Rechts-Gelehrten (2 vol., Frankfurt and Berlin, 1710-1715), and I selected it because it was the first work in the list with the word Recht (law) in its title. This biographical dictionary appeared anonymously, but Dahlmann published a similar more general work in 1710 which made his authorship plausible. The description of this work with twenty-seven biographies is most useful, in particular for the overview of the content, information about the context and background, and bibliographical information.

When I looked at the list of extant copies of Dahlmann’s book I somehow became wary. A quick search in the Karlsruher Virtual Library shows indeed more copies than indicated here. The copy of the first volume at the Max-Planck-Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte, Frankfurt am Main, too, has been digitized, as announced on the project page at Wolfenbüttel, but I was really surprised to find this title in Frankfurt within the collection of German legal journals from the period 1703 to 1830. Anyway, this title is certainly not widely available in German libraries: VD18, the bibliographical project for eighteenth-century German imprints, has not yet included any copy from the five participating libraries, but the Staatsbibliothek in Berlin, the Sächsische Landesbibliothek in Dresden and the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich do have a copy of the rare second volume, which has been digitized at Munich. Checking the information about surviving copies seems advisable.

Law on stage

Let’s look which other legal works and books touching the subject of law, jurisprudence and justice have been included at Welt und Wissen auf der Bühne:

– anon., Schauplatz der Betrieger (Hamburg-Frankfurt 1687) – a book about impostors and forgers – description
– anon., Hamburgisches Mordt-Theatrum (s.l., 1687) – a book describing the trial for the murder of a merchant from Hamburg – description
– anon., Theatro politico del honor y manifiesto legal de la santa iglesia Catedral de Zamora (s.l. [Zamora], 2 vol., 1730-1732) – a treatise about the jurisdiction and rights of a Spanish cathedral
– [Christoph Peller], Theatrum Pacis, Hoc Est: Tractatuum Atque Instrumentorum Praecipuorum (2 vol., Neurenberg 1683-1685) – a collection of peace treaties
– Johann Abelinus and Matthaeus Merian, Theatrum Europaeum (21 vol., Frankfurt 1633-1738) – a chronicle of near contemporary European history, often supported with legal documents – description
– Giovanni Battista Argiro, Theatrum universi juris (2 vol., Rome 1729-1734) – a legal bibliographical repertory guiding to commentaries for Roman and canon law
– Lorenzo Arrazola et alii, Enciclopedia española de derecho y administracion, ó Nuevo teatro universal de la legislacion de España è Indias (13 vol., Madrid 1848-1872) – an encyclopedia for Spanish law and government, including colonial law
– Angelo Auda, Theatrum regularium, in quo brevi methodo, variae decisiones, tam apostolicae quam Ordinis Minorum de observantia […] exarantur (Rome 1664) – ecclesiastical law concerning the Franciscan order
– Giovanni Battista Carmen Fattolillo, Theatrum immunitatis, et libertatis ecclesiasticae tam theorice, quam practice fideliter excerptum juxta Gregorianam bulla (2 vol., Rom 1714) – a work concerning immunity in canon law
– Giovanni Battista de Luca, Theatrum veritatis et iustitiae (18 vol., Cologne 1688) – De Luca’s famous often reprinted encyclopedic overview of all fields of law
– Camillo della Ratta, Theatrum feudale (2 vol., Naples 1637) – a work on feudal law – online, volume 1 and 2, Madrid, Universidad Complutense (at the Hathi Trust Digital Library)
– Jacob Döpler, Theatrum poenarum (2 vol., Sondershausen-Leipzig 1693) – a work on penal law – description
– Anton Wilhelm Ertl, Neu-eröffnete Schau-Bühne, Von dem Fürsten-Recht (Neurenberg 1702) – a book about princes and the law
– idem, Neu-Eröffneter Schau-Platz der Lands-Fürstlichen Ober-Bottmässigkeit (Neurenberg 1694)
– idem, Theatrum Superioritatis Territorialis Noviter Extructum (Augsburg 1684) – these two titles are clearly the Latin original and the German translation of a book on the territorial power of princes
– Adam Joseph Greneck, Theatrum Jurisdictionis Austriacae (Vienna 1752) – an encyclopedia on jurisdiction within Austria
– Georg Philipp Härsdorffer, Der Grosse Schauplatz Jämerlicher Mordgeschichte (8 vol., Hamburg 1649-1652) – a collection of murder stories and trials – description
– Carl Johnson / Joachim Meier (transl.), Schauplatz der englischen See-Räuber (A general history of the robberies and murders of the most notorious pyrates) (Goslar 1728) – a book about pirates and piracy
– Milettus Hedrusius, Neu-eröffnete Mord- und Trauer-Bühne (Schwabach 1708) – murder stories
– Johannes Franciscus Löw, Theatrum Medico-Juridicum (Neurenberg 1725) – a collection of treatises on forensic law
– Johann Christian Lünig, Theatrum Ceremoniale Historico-Politicum (3 vol., Leipzig 1719-1720) – a pioneer work about elections and political ceremonies – description
– Karl Philipp Mentzel, Neuestes Teutsches Reichs-Tags-Theatrum (Neurenberg 1733) – a book about the German Reichstag from 1662 onwards
– Johann Joachim Müller, Des Heiligen Römischen Reichs, Teutscher Nation, Reichs Tags Theatrum (2 vol., Jena 1713) – the German Reichstag between 1440 and 1493
– Melchior Adam Pastorius, Theatrum Electionis Et Coronationis Romano-Caesareae (Frankfurt am Main 1657) – not only about the election of German emperors, but with an overview of emperors since Roman antiquity
– Antonio Javier Pérez y Lopez, Teatro de la legislacion universal de España é Indias (28 vol., Madrid 1791-1798) – legislation in Spain and its colonial empire
– Johannes Friederich Reiger, Theatrum juridicum theoretico-practicum (Neurenberg 1724 and 1740) – a German translation of Justinian’s Digest
– Johan van den Sande, Theatrum practicantium hoc est decisiones aureae sive rerum in supremo Frisiorum curia judicatarum (Cologne 1663) – a collection of cases before the Frisian supreme court in Leeuwarden
– Johann Salomon Schülin, Theatrum Conscientiosum Criminale, (2 vol., Frankfurt / Leipzig 1732-1733) – a handbook for procedures in criminal law
– Christoph Heinirch Schweser, Theatrum Servitutum oder Schau-Platz Der Dienstbarkeiten (Neurenberg 1709) – a handbook on legal servitudes and service contracts
– Carlo Spadazza, Theatrum viduile, seu De viduis, ac priuilegiis viduilibus Tractatus absolutissimus, tum legalis, tum moralis, in quo tota viduilis materia elaborata methodo explanatur (Ferrara 1672) – a treatise about widows with attention to relevant law – online, Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale (at the portal Internet Culturale)
– Mattheus Surrentinus [Matteo Sorrentino], Theatrum et examen omnium decisionum regni Napolitani (Naples 1700) – a collection with jurisprudence from the kingdom of Naples
– Trobat, Juan Bautista: Tractatus de effectibus immemorialis praescriptionis et consuetudinis. Pars secunda, cum miscelanea casuum, et decisionum in Iurisprudentiae Theatrum (Valencia 1700) – a treatise on customary law
– Nicolás Bas y Galcerán, Theatrum jurisprudentiae forensis Valentinae romanorum iuri (2 vol., Valencia 1742-1762) – a book about legal practice and jurisprudence in Valencia
– [Zacharias Zwanzig], Theatrum Praecedentiae (Berlin 1705) – a treatise touching on international law and ceremonial law – description

With some 35 works in a selection of 200 books law and jurisprudence seem well represented. It is a pity that in view of a total of some 180 descriptions you find here for just seven legal works a specially created description. However impressive this list, it does lack at least one noted legal work, the Amphitheatrum legale of Agostino Fontana (4 vol., Parma 1688 – online, Hathi Trust Digital Library). On the other hand Jean Bodin’s Universae Naturae Theatrum (1596) has been included with a useful introduction. Sadly the list does not have for each work a description or a link to a digital version either from the collections of the Herzog August Bibliothek or elsewhere, and I have tried to supply such additional information here. On the other hand, in the case of the Theatrum Europaeum one is duly guided to a digital version of a later edition (21 vol., Frankfurt am Main 1646-1738; online at Augsburg).

In mentioning the Theatrum Europaeum we arrive at a central problem in dealing with this project. If the scholars creating the project had already difficulties in dealing with legal texts, how can a general user determine the nature of a particular work? In my view there is only one road to answer this question, to take the time to get hold of a work or to view a digital version, and to look beyond the title page. In this respect it would also have been helpful to have a translation of the book titles in Polish. In an earlier post I wrote about the Theatrum Europaeum as a useful source for the text of peace treaties. I am sure I have missed some works with legal contents in this list, but I have also excluded on purpose in my selection works on geography which surely do contain information about legal matters in a particular region or country.

Behind the scenes

How representative is the selection of works at Welt und Wissen auf der Bühne? It did cross my mind to look at the digital projects for Baroque literature at the Universität Mannheim. The CAMENA project created a network of digitized works from the Early Modern period, with for law a number of works in the section Historica & Politica. The Universal Short Title Catalogue (USTC, University of St. Andrews) has as its aim bringing together sixteenth-century books. I invite you to check the digitized works at the Heinsius Collection of Neo-Latin works published in the Dutch Republic (Universiteit Leiden), to visit the website for Nordic Neo-Latin literature (Universitetet i Bergen), or to walk through the alphabetically ordered Philological Museum (Dana Sutton, University of Birmingham). The German project does include only three titles for music, and the USTC, too, gives a very restricted number of similar titles. In its present state it does already offer a fairly complete overview of literature with some form of theatre in its title published during this period.

More incisive is the question how important these legal works were and are. Do we have here a parade of the great and influential works? It is safe to say that at least De Luca’s work was most influential. Of some authors we have here less well-known works. Lünig (1662-1740) is better known for his massive Das Teutsche Reichsarchiv (24 vol., Leipzig 1710-1722; digitized at Augsburg) and his Corpus iuris militaris (2 vol., Leipzig, 1723). However, his book on ceremonial law is indeed a landmark, and its importance has been highlighted in a book by Miloš Vec, Zeremonialwissenschaft im Fürstenstaat. Studien zur juristischen und politischen Theorie absolutistischer Herrschaftsrepräsentation (Frankfurt am Main 1998). The selection of lawyers in Dahlmann’s Historischer Schauplatz is definitely not what you would expect nowadays of a book with juridical biographies, but this helps in fact to become aware of our own predefined ideas and conventions. One of the strengths of the project at Wolfenbüttel and Kassel are the references to relevant literature, even if this is often restricted to literature in German. A number of these modern scholarly texts can be read online.

The project title World and Knowledge on Stage itself immediately remembered me of proverbial lines by Joost van den Vondel, a seventeenth-century Dutch author: De wereld is een speeltoneel, elk speelt zijn rol en krijgt zijn deel, “the world is a theatre, everyone plays his role and gets his part”. These words were composed for the opening of the municipal theatre of Amsterdam in 1637 and put above its entrance. Maybe this echoes a thought expressed by Erasmus in his Praise of Folly (ch. 29)A second proverbial saying of Vondel brings us closer to law: “De wetten zwijgen stil voor wapens en trompetten” [The laws are silent in front of weapons and trumpets], which alludes to the Latin proverb inter arma silent leges. The metaphor of the theatre helps us to look for the roles people played and the subjects brought to the limelight or left in the wings. It struck me how many titles in the German project refer to wars and conflicts. Any title with the word theatre invites you to enter a different world. You might encounter unfamiliar laws or meet a kind of justice that functions differently than you had imagined before.

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