Sunday, June 5, 2011

Shakespeare a Lawyer? - 1 - Introduction 1

Was Shakespeare a Lawyer?

This begins a series of posts on the question of whether or not Shake-Speare was a lawyer. For most readers this will be an introduction to some of the legal phrases in Shake-Speare but I don't think that one needs any legal background to understand most of the arguments here as they pertain to the authorship question.

The debate about whether or not Shake-Speare was a lawyer or had any kind of legal training has been going on for over a hundred years. Baconians naturally favor the belief that Shake-Speare had legal training since Bacon was a lawyer and judge. Oxfordians also favor this belief since the Earl of Oxford had at least excellent legal tutoring and I think, like Bacon, had attended Gray's Inn. Some Stratfordians at one time at least had thought William Shakspere had some legal training but I understand that their stance now is that he picked up his legal knowledge off the street, so to speak, and that the law in the plays did not require formal legal training. Lawyers themselves have been divided on the question.

So this is Cockburn's analysis of the evidence and arguments. Cockburn himself had his career as a London barrister, so he is especially well qualified to give an educated opinion here.
Part 1

The notion that William Shakspere once worked in an attorney's office has no evidence to support it and is not, I think, taken very seriously nowadays. If it were true, he might have been required to append his signature as a witness to Wills or deeds of clients, but despite exhaustive researches no such signature has been found. So if one can infer from Shake-Speare's legal knowledge that he did have legal training, it becomes highly unlikely that he was William Shakspere of Stratford.

Shake-Speare's legal allusions compared with those of other playwrights:

A number of Elizabethan dramatists used legal terms in their plays. Several  playwrights even had legal training, including Francis Beaumont, John Ford, George Gascoigne, Thomas Lodge, Thomas Middleton, John Marston, William Warner and Abraham Fraunce. London theater audiences included many lawyers. So Shake-Speare followed the fashion of including legalisms in his plays.

The best book on this subject is The Law of Property in Shakespeare and the Elizabethan Drama by two American lawyers, Paul S. Clarkson and Clyde T. Warren. They spent 11 years searching for law in about 200 Elizabethan plays by 17 playwrights, including Shake-Speare. Unfortunately, their book is restricted to the Law of Property (1942 and 1968). They had planned more books on the subject but never finished them.

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