Sunday, June 5, 2011

Shakespeare a Lawyer? - 8 - Alleged Bad Law 5

Was Shake-Speare a lawyer?

Part 8

Shake-Speare's Alleged Bad Law continued

11. Richard III - demise

In 4.4.247-8 a passage says:

"Tell me what state, what dignity, what honour
Canst thou demise to any child of mine"

It has been objected that the verb "demise", which means to convey by Will or lease, cannot apply to a state, dignity or honour. But, needless to say, Shake-Speare is using the word metaphorically.

12.  Pericles - indenture

In 1.3.7-8 Thaliard says: "for if a king bid a man to be a villain, he is bound by the indenture of his oath to be one". It has been objected that an oath cannot be an indenture, which means a sealed agreement. But "indenture" is used metaphorically.

13. Macbeth - execution

In 1.4.1 Duncan asks "Is execution done on Cawdor?" In its legal sense "execution" means the enforcement of a legal judgment. It has been objected that there had been no judgment against Cawdor. But "execution" is here used ironically for "assassination".

14. Hamlet - jointress

In 1.2.9 King Claudius describes Queen Gertrude as "the imperial jointress to this warlike state". In law a "jointure" was an estate which was settled on a wife and which passed to her on her husband's death. It has been objected that Queen Gertrude had no such jointure. But here Shake-Speare uses "jointress" metaphorically to mean joint ruler or joint owner ("State" may have been suggested by "estate").

15. The Comedy of Errors - on the case

In 4.2.42-5 Antipholus of Syracuse is said to have been arrested "on the case". Actions "on the case" were a class of action to which the old conventional writs of summons were inapplicable. Accordingly, a special writ, analogous to the old writ of trespass, was issued to meet the particular circumstances of each case. Antipholus was arrested for non-payment of the price of a gold chain. It has been objected, accurately, that an action of debt was not an action "on the case". But Shake-Speare probably called it an action "on the case" to enable him to pun on "case", one meaning of which was a suit of clothes. He puns again on "suit" in the three lines that follow.

Conclusion on Shake-Speare's alleged bad law

The attempt to thrust Shake-Speare's legal allusions down his own throat as evidence that he was not a lawyer fails completely. But similar attempts would probably fail against other Elizabethan dramatists, even if in fact they were not lawyers. Clarkson and Warren mention a few "mistakes" in the others' law of property, but I doubt if any of the "mistakes" are really of a kind to exclude their being lawyers. The reality is that dramatists need and were rightly allowed such license in their treatment of law and legalisms that it is often, perhaps usually, impossible to tell whether a departure from strict legal accuracy was due to ignorance or to dramatic convenience. So the failure of the Stratfordian counter-attack is not evidence that Shake-Speare was a lawyer. But on an affirmative level we now turn to those of his legalisms which should be regarded as such evidence.


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