Sunday, June 5, 2011

Shakespeare a Lawyer? - 18 - Advocate Pheasant

Was Shake-Speare a lawyer?

Part 18

Valid Pointers to Shake-Speare being a Lawyer

6.  An advocate is a pheasant

In The Winter's Tale 4.4.743 this occurs:

Shepherd:   My business, Sir, is to the King.
Autolycus:  What advocate hast thou to him?
Shepherd:   I know not, and it like you.
Clown:       Advocate's the court-word for pheasant.

This is a reference to the fact that bribery of local justices (the only courts the clown would know) by gifts of poultry was common enough for the term "capon justices" to be current in 1639. The Variorum editor notes: "In the time of Elizabeth there were Justices of the Peace, called Basket Justices, who would do nothing without a present; yet, as a member of the House of Commons expressed himself, 'for half a dozen of chickens would dispense with a whole dozen of penal statutes'". This and the term "capon justices" suggests that the normal gift was chickens. So why does Shake-Speare substitute a pheasant

Was a pheasant in those days regarded as a greater luxury than a chicken which offers more meat? The Baconians have floated a different explanation. They have identified a family of barristers named Phesant (the name was also spelt Fesant, Ffeasant, and Pheasant; see Baconiana, Vol. 17, pp. 173-4). A Jasper Ffesant sat as a judge in 1550. A Peter Phesant, who may have been Jasper's son, was elected a Reader of Gray's Inn in 1581 and sat as a Bencher from 1582. - see the Gray's Inn Pension Book (1901) edited by R.J. Fletcher. Peter later became Attorney-General in the North. Bacon himself, as we have seen became a Bencher in 1586. So from then on he would have been closely associated with Peter till the latter's death before 8 February 1588. Peter's son of the same name was admitted to the Inn as a student in 1602, and called to the Bar in 1608. Bacon was present when his call was confirmed. Is it fanciful to suppose that Bacon substituted a pheasant for a chicken to amuse lawyers in the audience with a humourous dig at a Gray's Inn family of advocates?


5.  My brother Angelo

In Measure For Measure  3.2.201 Escalus refer to his fellow judge Angelo as "my brother Angelo". British judges still refer to their colleagues in this fashion. A judge may say, for example, "my brother Smith" or "my brother Mr. Justice Smith". But one doubts if many laymen know this, or knew it in Shake-Speare's day.

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