Mediation is not only a form of alternative dispute resolution but also an art, a skill or even a “work-in-progress” that takes years to refine, not unlike a playwright’s craft. A standard definition of mediation is as a forward-looking problem-solving process where parties in conflict are assisted by a neutral and impartial third party. Shakespeare’s works are saturated with conflict, showcasing entrenched disputes like those between the feuding Veronese households of the Montagues and Capulets from which “ancient grudge break / to new mutiny” in Romeo and Juliet; between Shylock and Antonio, the merchant of Venice, wrangling over a pound of flesh; and even between King Lear and his daughters squabbling over their parceled inheritance. And yet, no one turns to mediation in these instances; obviously, there would be no drama to incite Shakespeare to put quill to parchment but for conflicts left unmediated.
Even so, mediation appears in Shakespearean works. Focusing on two skilled mediators in Measure for Measure and a third in The Tempest will allow us to unpack some of the strategies, tactics and hidden talents stowed in the mediator’s toolbox. Obviously, Shakespeare does not present pure instances of mediation: sit-down meetings and shuttle sessions are not conducive to dramatic theatrical productions; neither are neutrality or impartiality—two cornerstones of modern mediation. And yet, once we make these few concessions, Shakespeare’s oeuvre unfolds before us, revealing countless would-be mediators rummaging for anything from a fine chisel to a sledgehammer. While some mediators prove more capable than others, a close reading of the plays can best demonstrate their skills, techniques, tactics and some familiar traps.
I. A NOVICE NUN BUT AN EXPERT MEDIATOR IN MEASURE FOR MEASURE
The play draws on the expertise of two skilled mediators. The first is Isabella, a novice about to enter the convent, who finds out that her brother, Claudio, is the first person to be sentenced to death for adultery. Isabella is summoned to bring sense to Angelo (the substitute duke who has reawakened this blunted law) and to procure a pardon for her brother. Claudio begs his friend Lucio to send for his sister, knowing that “she hath prosperous art / When she will play with reason and discourse, / And well she can persuade.” Isabella’s powers of persuasion are really mediation tactics. In pure mediation, choosing an appropriate mediator is an important process. Both parties must agree on a candidate after considering her expertise and credentials; they can also request further information from chief negotiators involved in her prior mediations.