Sunday, June 5, 2011

Shakespeare a Lawyer? - 14 - Legal jargon

Was Shake-Speare a lawyer?

Part 14

Valid Pointers to Shake-Speare being a Lawyer

15. Resisting law

In Coriolanus 3.1.265-6, Sicinius urges that Coriolanus shall be thrown down the tarpeian rock because

             "he hath resisted law
And therefore law shall scorn him further trial..."

This is presumably based on the legal tag from the Roman jurist Justinian, 2 Institutes 53,  Merito beneficium legis amittit qui legem ipsam subvertere intendit - "he who intends to subvert the law itself deservedly loses the benefit of law". Yet the tag is not in Plutarch, Shake-Speare's source. Would Will Shakspere have known it, even in an English version?

14. A Sentence Irrevocable

In The Comedy of Errors 1.1.147 a character says that a "passed sentence may not be recalled [revoked]". There was a legal tag Sententia interlocutoria revocari potest definitiva non potest - "an interlocutory order may be revoked but not a final one". A criminal sentence was a final order (subject to appeal), and the wording of Shake-Speare's line suggests that he had the tag in mind. I doubt if Will Shakspere of Stratford would have known it.

Also, Lord Campbell, speaking of the jests in The Comedy of Errors, he remarks : 
"These jests cannot be supposed to arise from anything in the laws or customs of Syracuse, but they show the author to be very familiar with some of the most abtruse proceedings in English jurisprudence." --(From Shakespeare's Legal Acquirements, p. 38)


Franklin Fiske Heard, an American authority, says :
"The Comedy of Errors shows that Shakespeare was very familiar with some of the most refined principles of the science of special pleading, a science which contains the quintessence of the law".

Remember that The Comedy of Errors was one of Shake-Speare's first plays. How could Will Shakspere, recently from Stratford, had obtained this expertise so quickly, (if at all, considering he had no formal training in law)?  See the timeline here:

13. The Leek and Ambiguities

In Henry V, 5.1.45-7, Pistol asks if he really must bite the leek, to which Fluellen replies:

"Yes certainly, and out of doubt and out of question too and ambiguities".

These words were often found in a codicil to a Will by way of explaining the Will. For example, a codicil of Nicholas Tooley (one of Shakspere's fellow actors) had: "For the explanation of such ambiguities, doubts, scruples, questions and variances". Or the words might appear in the body of a Will. that of Charles Brandon begins: "I Charles Duke of Suffolk, being of whole and perfect memory, considering the great ambiguities, doubts and questions that do daily rise and grow in last Wills". but would a non-lawyer have thought of introducing Will jargon into Pistol's disconfiture over the leek?

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