Sunday, June 5, 2011

Shakespeare a Lawyer? - 2 - Introduction 2

Was Shake-Speare a lawyer?

Part 2

As mentioned, the Clarkson and Warren book The Law of Property in Shakespeare and the Elizabethan Drama (1942 and 1962) has been one of the most influential books on this topic. Based on their study of Shake-Speare's law, they concluded:

"Our reading of the plays revealed that about half Shakespeare's fellows employed on average more legalisms than he [Shake-Speare] did - some of them a great deal more. For example, the 16 plays of Ben Jonson...have a total of over 500 references to all fields of law. This surpasses Shakespeare's total from more than twice as many plays. Not only do half of the playwrights employ legalisms more freely than Shakespeare but most of them also exceed him in the detail and complexity of their legal problems and allusions, and with a few exceptions display a degree of accuracy at least no lower than his. Proceeding from the general to the particular, about the same comparative average is maintained among the dramatists in their allusions to property law...It is accordingly our conclusion that that what law there is in Shakespeare can, indeed must, be explained upon some grounds other than that he was a lawyer, or an apprentice or a student of law...We do not say dogmatically that William Shakespeare was not a lawyer or that he had no legal education. As to that we are agnostic; as a matter of biographical fact we simply do not know. But on the basis of our comparative studies we do state categorically that the internal evidence from Shakespeare's plays is wholly insufficient to prove such a claim".

To this, Cockburn makes the following comments:

1. I am doubtful of the claim that about half of Shake-Speare's fellows employed on average more legalisms than he did. In their one book Clarkson and Warren tabulate in an Appendix all legal references to the law of property by Shake-Speare and the other 16 playwrights. And on my reckoning from that table only Ben Jonson, Philip Massinger, Thomas Middleton and John Webster employ on average as many or more legalisms as Shake-Speare. If, as Clarkson and Warren state, about the same comparative average is maintained in the dramatists' law as a whole, their calculation would seem incorrect. Of course the number of references is of limited importance - much depends also on their quality.

In their first edition (1942) the authors claim in the Preface to have cited and quoted from nearly 300 plays. In the 2nd edition (1962) this is amended to "well over 200 plays". In fact, the actual number, as appears from their own appendix, is 203. So perhaps counting  was not their forte.

Note: The Stratfordian Richard Grant White in his Memoirs of William Shakespeare in his 1866 edition of Shakespeare's Works, Vol. 1, p. xlv, wrote: "Of all the plays that have survived of those written between 1580 and 1620, Shakespeare's are the most noteworthy in this respect. For no dramatist of the times, not even Beaumont, who was the younger son of a Judge of the Common Pleas and who, after studying in the Inns of Court, abandoned law for the drama, used legal phrases with Shakespeare's readiness and exactness". This conflicts with the view of Clarkson and Warren.

end of Part 2

No comments:

Post a Comment