“The Law is a Terrifying Thing”: Anti-semitic Misuse of the Law in Arnold Wesker’s Shylock

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Controversy has marred the legacy of the London-born Jewish dramatist, Sir Arnold Wesker (1932–2016). Innumerable stories about difficulties between him and theatrical practitioners have circulated in print and verbally for decades.Footnote1 Notably, in the first major essay collection to be published about his work for many years, 2020’s Arnold Wesker: Fragments and Visions, one whole essay is given the self-explanatory title, “‘Let Battle Commence!’: The Wesker Controversies.”Footnote2 Theatre spats are one thing—experience with the courts is something else. Wesker was no stranger to the courts—both criminal and civil. In the earlier part of his career, when he was feted by the press for his genuine proletarian voice and for his seemingly leftist but nuanced humanitarian drama, Wesker was often involved in anti-authority protests. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, he was heavily involved in marches and civil disobedience campaigns against nuclear weapon research and production facilities at Aldermaston; indeed, he was a member of the anti-war ‘Group of 100’—a group led by Bertrand Russell. This led directly to Wesker’s imprisonment for a month in 1961, with some other Committee members, for refusing a court order to refrain from further protests and disruptions. Extraordinarily, Wesker and his cohorts had been summoned to court, without charge, under authority granted by the Justices of the Peace Act—an act brought into law under the kingship of Edward III in 1361.Footnote3
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)345-357
Number of pages13
JournalLiverpool Law Review
Issue number3
Early online date28 Sept 2023
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 31 Oct 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
An early version of this essay was delivered to the Aberystwyth Bibliographical Group at the National Library of Wales on March 28, 2023. Another version of it was presented at an Ulster University seminar on April 20, 2023. I thank all attendees of those talks and for help with the completion of this essay I thank Mr Timothy Cutts, Dr Alice Diver, Dr Frank Ferguson, Ms Mairi Laird, Dr Fred Long, Dr David Stoker and, especially, Dr Anoush Simon.


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