Sunday, June 5, 2011

Shakespeare a Lawyer? - 13 - Oath

Was Shake-Speare a lawyer?

Part 13

Valid Pointers to Shake-Speare being a Lawyer

16.  The oath of allegiance

In Macbeth 1.4.22-7 Macbeth says to Duncan:

                      "our duties
Are to your throne and state, children and servants;
Which do but what they should by doing everything
Safe toward your love and honour".

The great 18th century jurist William Blackstone commented on this passage: "safe (i.e. saved) toward your love and honour; and then the sense will be: 'Our duties are your children and servants or vassals to your throne or state; who do but what they should, by doing everything with a saving of their love and honour toward you'. The whole is an allusion to the form of doing homage in the feudal times. The oath of allegiance, or liege homage, to the king was absolute and without any exception; but simple homage, when done to a subject of lands holden of him, was always with a saving of the allegiance (the love and honour) due to the sovereign. 'Sauf le foy, que jeo doy a nostre seinor le roy' [save the faith I owe to our Sovereign Lord the King] as it in Littleton".

I think Blackstone shapes his interpretation too closely to the form of oath. A simpler interpretation is: "without hazard to your love and honour". But both interpretations mean much the same - the subject must put his duty to the sovereign first. The important point for our purposes is that Shake-Speare presumably had the French form of oath in mind. "Safe" [=sauf] otherwise seems odd in the context.

It seems unlikely that Will Shakspere would have known the French form, as it appeared in Littleton's Tenures, an old legal text book. Bacon knew at least the substance of the oath. For when the Earl of Essex offered him a parcel of land as compensation for failing to procure for him the office of Solicitor-general, Bacon replied: "My Lord, I see I must be your homager and hold land of your gift; but do you know the manner of doing homage in law? always it is with a saving of his faith to the king and his other lords; and therefore, my Lord, I can be no more your than I was, and it must be with the ancient savings."

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