The theatre of emblems: On the optical apparatus and the investiture of persons

Peter Goodrich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The concept of the person is linked most often, within the Western tradition, to the theatre. The etymology of the word goes back to the actor's mask and thence to the stage and by extension to the great unraveling of public life that occurs within the variegated histrionic domains of the social. Lawyers borrowed from and competed with the theatre. Acting, the adoption of roles, the scrivening of instruments, the collection of books, the staging of spectacles, of trial and scaffold, pillar and column, throne and vestment, were intrinsic to the development of juridical culture. Taking up Esposito's cue, this essay traces the ambivalence and tensions of the person through the longer term history of law's dependence not only on the theatrical remit of personality but also upon its theologico-legal roots. The juristic person developed in early modern common law as a duality because of the hierarchy of laws, spiritual and temporal, which the person had in turn to reflect. Within this dual realm, the person was always a complex function with liturgical, legal and theatrical aspects. In common law, curiously and emblematically, the person was originally a parson, a priest, and so representative of a parish, the ecclesia or community of which he was literally the living emblem. Using the example of Anglican ecclesiastical law, to which common law was attached, the investiture of parsons is examined as a specific instance of the institution of personality and of the theatre of becoming and acting as a person.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)47-67
Number of pages21
JournalLaw, Culture and the Humanities
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2012


  • Emblems
  • Esposito
  • Images
  • Impolitics
  • Induction
  • Institution
  • Maitland
  • Parsona
  • Persona

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Law


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