Sunday, June 5, 2011

Shakespeare a Lawyer? - 11 - Cadit Quaestio, Confess Avoid

Was Shake-Speare a lawyer?

Part 11

Valid Pointers to Shake-Speare being a Lawyer

20.  Confess and Avoid

In Hamlet 3.4.151-2 the Prince upbraids his mother:

                   "Confess yourself to heaven,
Repent what's past, avoid what is to come;"

To "confess and avoid" was a pleading term used by lawyers, meaning: "To admit an allegation but show it to be invalid in law". Lawyers still use the term today, but it would be difficult to find a layman who knows it. In Shake-Speare's day it seems that some laymen did know it. Holinshed (1586) mentions it once; and The Art of English Poesy (1589) says: "the figure is much used by our English pleaders in the Star Chamber and Chancery, which they call to confess and avoid". In the present Hamlet text it seems to have slipped from Shake-Speare's mind almost subliminally.

19.  Cadit Quastio

In Measure For Measure 2.4.88-90 Isabella is pleading with Angelo for her brother's life. Angelo is about to propose that if she will have sex with himself (Angelo), he will spare her brother:

Angelo:    Admit no other way to save his life -
           As I subscribe not that, nor any other,
           But in the loss of question - that you, his sister
           [Have sex with me]

The parenthesis in the middle has been much debated. Interpretations have included "For the sake of argument"; "Without disowning the right of calling him to answer for his crime"; "Provided there is no dispute"; and "Provided nothing more can be said for the defense”.  But all of these are wrong. In truth, the parenthesis seems influenced by the Latin law phrase (which lawyers still use today) cadit quaestio, which means "the question falls because it is no longer relevant". For example, a Court might say: "We may have to decide whether a juvenile aged only 16 - as this Defendant claims to be - can lawfully be sent to prison. Of course if the Crown can show that he is over 16, cadit quaestio". Now Angelo's parenthesis means: "I will admit no question about the proposal i am about to make for saving your brother's life, nor will I entertain any other proposal". This is not quite a cadit quaestio situation because no premise has lapsed to render the question irrelevant. But "the loss of question" suggests that Shake-Speare had "the fall of question" in mind. Angelo is saying in effect: "The question falls because I refuse to hear argument about it".

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