Sunday, June 5, 2011

Shakespeare a Lawyer? - 20 - Hamlet Body Natural, Body Politic

Was Shake-Speare a lawyer?

Part 20

Valid Pointers to Shake-Speare being a Lawyer

This piece of evidence has already been presented earlier as one of the best language parallels between Shake-Speare and Bacon. But it also serves to support the argument that Shake-Speare was a lawyer. The earlier post was an abridged version. I'm reposting it here to keep the 'Shake-Speare as Lawyer' posts together and so that this unabridged version is available for those who are interested in the full argument.

3. Hamlet - the King's body natural and his body politic

In Hamlet 4.2.24-7, after Hamlet has slain Polonius, this exchange occurs:

Rosencratz:  My Lord, you must tell us where the body is and go with us to the King.
Hamlet:        The body is with the King, but the King is not with the body.

This cryptic utterance has caused endless puzzlement. At first blush it sounds like a mere nonsense  designed to strengthen the impression of Hamlet's madness. But there is far more to it than that, and we may discover what from A Bacon passage. In his speech in a law case in 1608 called "The case of the Post-Nati of Scotland,", which turned on the question whether, when England and Scotland were united, would the natives of both kingdoms, born after James I's accession, be naturalized in both. Bacon said of this:

"The natural body of the King hath an operation and influence into his body politic, as well as his body politic hath upon his body natural; and therefore, that although his body politic of King of England, and his body politic of King of Scotland, be several and distinct, yet nevertheless his natural person which is one, hath an operation upon both and createth a privity between them...[at p. 667] For they that maintain the contrary opinion do in effect destroy the whole force of the King's natural capacity, as if it were drowned and swallowed up by his body politic...[Bacon then cited authorities for two propositions: (a) There is in the King not a body natural alone, but a body natural and politic together; (b) Though there be in the King two bodies, and that these two bodies are conjoined, yet they are no means confounded the one by the other].

Earlier in 1604 Bacon had stressed the same doctrine, describing the Act of Union as "as union in your Majesty's royal person"; and again in 1607 as a "union made in the King's person".

Regarding Hamlet's line "The body is with the King, but the King is not with the body", the Arden editor (one of the few commentators, it seems, to have understood the line) points out correctly that Hamlet has two meanings. One is: "The body is in the King's Palace, but is it not the King himself who has been killed", But the secondary meaning (based on the Elizabethan political doctrine referred to above by Bacon) treats the body as that of the King, and is: "The body natural is necessarily with the King, but the body politic is not, because he is not the rightful King [having murdered the previous King, his brother]"

The distinction between "body natural" and "body politic" was not invented by Bacon. Ernst H. Kantorowicz has shown in his The King's Two Bodies (1957), p. 7 ff, that it was formulated by the judges in two cases in the third and fourth years of Queen Elizabeth's reign, reported in Plowden's Reports; and he adds that similar passages could be found elsewhere in Plowden. But he does not identify any reference to the distinction by a non-lawyer, though he continues: "Moreover, related notions were carried into public when in 1603 Francis Bacon suggested for the the Crowns of England and Scotland, be united in James I, the name of 'Great Britain' as an expression of the perfect union of bodies, politic as well as natural. (Brief Discourse Touching the Happy Union of the Kingdom of England and Scotland, Spedding 10.90).

Thus the distinction between "body natural" and "body politic" was very much on Bacon's mind around the time when Hamlet Q2 was issued in 1604 (the line is not in Q.1, 1603) since he was the King's principal advocate in Parliament of the proposed union of England and Scotland. Bacon argued that the King's natural body created a privity between his body politic of Scotland and his body politic of England, thus legitimising the Union. It seems that the references in the scene Shake-Speare was writing to "body" and "king" made him think of the distinction between the King's body natural and his body politic; and that he then realised that he could use the distinction as the basis of a piece of seeming madness to put into Hamlet's mouth. If ever a legalism "slipped" from Shake-Speare this is it. And no one had more cause than Bacon to have it in the forefront of his mind in 1604. As to Will Shakspere, even if he knew of this fine, abstruse point of constitutional law, it would hardly have engrossed him when writing about Polonius's murder.

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