Sunday, June 5, 2011

Shakespeare a Lawyer? - 9 - Valid Points

Was Shake-Speare a lawyer?

Part 9

Valid Pointers to Shake-Speare being a Lawyer - Introduction

The Stratfordian Edgar I. Fripp, an advocate of the view that William Shakspere must have had legal training, wrote in his Minutes and Accounts of the Corporation of Stratford-upon Avon (1921), p.1viii:

"Contemporary dramatists use legal terms, some frequently, but their employment of them is quite unlike Shakespeare's. It is intermittent, decorative, self conscious; Shakespeare's is persistent and inherent and often involuntary. It is impossible, in fact, for Shakespeare to write anything of any length without betraying the attorney - even that lovely dirge The Phoenix and the Turtle has "From this session interdict"; and Prospero's farewell epilogue, "Release me from by bands [bonds]". His medicine, which is very interesting, is after the fashion of Ben Jonson's law - brought in and worked up for a purpose. His [Shake-Speare's] law slips from him unawares. And in this that he cannot help, we see a bit of Stratford".

If the legalisms of other Elizabethan dramatists are less persistent, less evenly spread, that would be a point for the Baconians. But, to judge from the  tables in Clarkson and Warren's appendix, I doubt if this particular point could be substantiated. But what of Fripp's claim that Shake-Speare's law "slips from him unawares"? I do not think this can be shown to be true of most of his legal allusions. They may have "slipped" from him or they may have been "brought in and worked up" - one cannot tell which. I see nothing in the way most are used which is more "involuntary" than their mode of use by other dramatists. To give a single example, in Romeo And Juliet 3.1.34-6 Benvolio tells Mercutio: "An [if] I were so apt to quarrel as thou art, any man should buy the fee simple of my life for an hour and a quarter". A fee simple was the highest estate in land known to the law and is here used metaphorically. Compare John Marston's The Insatiate Countess 3.4.148-9, where Count Massino declares: "And where the Devil has the fee simple,/ He'll keep possession". Neither use of "fee simple" can be said to be more or less involuntary than the other. However, with regard to a vital few of Shake-Speare's legal allusions, I think Fripp's comment is valid, and I include them in my list of significant Shake-Speare legalisms.

The few in question give the impression that Shake-Speare's law was in the forefront of his mind (as it would if he was a lawyer), so that the legalisms "slip" from him in contexts where a non-lawyer, even if he knew the legal rule or term, would be unlikely to think of using it. Sometimes it is no more than a little snatch of legal phraseology - perhaps only a word or two. Especially good examples are Nos. 2, 3, 11,12,19, 20 and 21 on my list. I do not suggest that the incongruity of a legalism in its context is necessarily sufficient proof of "slipping". For example, in his Edward the Fourth Part 2, John Heywood makes a man who is about to be executed speak figuratively in terms of tenants at will, rent in arrears and distraints. This labored and incongruous analogy (see Clarkson and Warren, p. 99) was "brought in and worked up". Whether a legalism has the appearance of having slipped from the author will depend on the circumstances. but unfortunately, from first to last in their book, Clarkson and Warren never address their minds to this crucial question of "slipping"; and in my view their omission is a fatal flaw in their otherwise invaluable work. The error is shared by the other exponents of the view that Shake-Speare was not, or cannot be shown to have been, a lawyer.

In addition to the "slipping" items, my list includes things Shake-Speare is unlikely even to have known. Nos 4,5,6,7 and 10 relate to the Bench or Bar. Stratfordians argue that Shake-Speare would not have used a law term unless his audience would understand it; and if they could understand it, it must have been common knowledge, so that Will Shakspere would have known it too. This argument is overstated. There is no reason why a playwright should not use some technical terms which parts of his audience will not understand. Very often they can guess the meaning from the context. And even if they cannot, that will not significantly impair their enjoyment of the plot as a whole. Moreover, Elizabethan London theatre audiences included many lawyers. And if Bacon was Shake-Speare, he would have derived most satisfaction from entertaining his own fraternity, even if some of his allusions were above the heads of non-lawyers.

There are 22 items to be discussed. The first 4 items are more extensive and for this reason I'm going to save them for last. So I'll start with the last (#22) and work toward the first. So far as the author knows, none of the 22 items have been found elsewhere in Elizabethan non-legal literature.

No comments:

Post a Comment