Empathy at the Crossroads

  • Shlomit Cohen-Skali (Tel Aviv University)


Legal docu-performances (LDPs) are the staging of actual legal cases that have already been decided by the court. As such, they can serve as a laboratory in which the interface between theater and law is explored. The transformation from the courtroom to the stage aims to foster a critical examination of the legal process and its influence on public discourse. In this paper I focus on the place of empathy in this examination. While the role of empathy has been contested in both the legal and the theatrical sphere, empathy has also been advocated as essential to the pursuit of justice. In probing the role of empathy in LDPs, I distinguish different kinds of empathy and different strategies of employing empathy in the service of critique. I illustrate these strategies through three performance case studies that challenge the court decision on which they are based: one based on affective empathy, one on cognitive empathy, and one on a combination of the two. I stress, in particular, the impact of these LDPs on the public understanding of the legal and moral issues addressed by performances.

Keywords: Legal-Documentary, empathy, theater, law

How to Cite:

Cohen-Skali, S., (2023) “Empathy at the Crossroads”, Documenta 41(2): 4, 85-110. doi:

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Published on
20 Dec 2023
Peer Reviewed