Sunday, June 5, 2011

Shakespeare a Lawyer? - 6 - Alleged Bad Law 3

Was Shake-Speare a lawyer?

Part 6

Shake-Speare's Alleged Bad Law continued

2. The Winter's Tale - the trial of Hermione

Leontes suspects his wife Hermione of adultery. So he puts her on "trial". The play's story is set in no time or place, except that it is ancient, and the "trial" makes no attempt to follow normal trial procedure. In truth it is little more than an inquisition of Hermione by Leontes who acts as both prosecutor and jury. As George Keeton observes in his Shakespeare's Legal and Political Background (1967), p. 156: "Shakespeare is consciously deviating from the ordinary course of a contemporary [i.e. Elizabethan] trial, in order to emphasize the cruelty of Leontes".

3. Henry VIII - the divorce of Queen Katherine

Katherine objects to Wolsey being her judge. The cavil has been taken that a party could not object to the judge. In fact, the suit was in the Ecclesiastical Court where challenge to the judge was possible.

4. 2 Henry VI - Heir Apparent

In 1.1.150-1 Humphrey is described as "heir apparent". An "heir apparent" is an heir who is bound to succeed if he outlives his ancestor. Humphrey's right to succeed was contingent on the chance that Henry would leave no lineal heir. So Clarkson and Warren, pp 198-9, suggest that Shake-Speare should have called him an "heir presumptive". Here they may be in error. For, though the distinction existed in fact, it is doubtful whether the term "heir presumptive" was in use in Shake-Speare's day. They cite no instance of it. And the first instance in the O.E.D. is for 1845. John Seldon in his Titles of Honour (1614), pp. 168, 170 and 174, treats "heir apparent" as meaning "the next heir or successor". This would cover heir presumptive as well. He makes no mention of the term "heir presumptive".

5.  All's Well That Ends Well - marriage of a ward

The King of France assumes the power to compel his ward Count Bertram to marry Helena, though she was but a poor physician's daughter. In English law a guardian was not entitled to force his ward to marry beneath his or her station in life. However, the King promises to ennoble Helena to equal rank with Bertram - which would solve the problem even by English law.

6.  Julius Caesar - Caesar's Will

In 3.2.249-52 Antony tells the mob of Caesar's Will:

"Moreover, he hath left you all his walks,
His private abours and new-planted orchards,
On this side Tiber; he hath left them you
And to your heirs for ever".

It has been objected that a gift of public parks etc would properly be made, not to the populace, but to the City of Rome as a municipal corporation or to the Mayor and Aldermen of the city (or their Roman equivalent). But Antony was not quoting the precise wording of the Will, merely stating its purport.

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