This essay introduces a Common Knowledge symposium on the relationship between texts (for instance, musical scores or dramatic scripts) and performance in the arts by drawing out its implications for the interpretation of publicly consequential texts (such as constitutions, legal statutes, and canon law). Arguing that judges and clerics could learn much from studying the work of Philip Gossett and other practitioners of textual criticism in the arts, the essay suggests that a wider array of choices exists for legal interpretation than the usual alternative between originalism or literalism, on the one hand, and intuitionism, on the other hand. Contributions to the symposium (titled “Between Text and Performance”) emphasize what Roger Moseley calls “improvisatory fluency in historical idioms,” and this introduction recommends that jurists develop for the law the kind of “ear” that musicians must have when a score invites or demands improvisation.

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