Part Two – William Shakespeare – Attorney At Law Lord Campbell, as we have just seen, mentions Henry VIII as one of the fourteen plays in which he has found nothing which relates to the question in hand; but Mr. Rushton opens his batteries with the following passage from the very play just named; and to most readers it will seem a bomb of the largest dimensions, sent right into the citadel of his opponents: Suff.
Lord Cardinal, the king’s further pleasure is, Because all those things you have done of late By your power legatine within this kingdom Fall into compass of a premunire, That therefore such a writ be sued against you, To forfeit all your goods, lands, tenements, Chattels, and whatsoever, and to be Out of the kings protection:Ã¢â‚¬â€?this is my charge. Ã¢â‚¬â€?King Henry VIII, Act iii. Sc. 2. We shall first remark, that, in spite of his declaration as to Henry VIII, Lord Campbell does cite and quote this very, passage p. 2; and, indeed, he must have been as unappreciative as he seems to have been inaccurate, had he failed to do so; for, upon its face, it is, with one or two exceptions, the most important passage of the kind to be found in Shakespeare’s works. Premunire is thus defined in an old law-book, which was accessible to Shakespeare:Order now
“Premunire is a writ, and it lieth where any man sueth any other in the spirituall court for anything that is determinable in the King’s Court, and that is ordeined by certaine statutes, and great punishment therefore ordeined, as it appeareth by the same statutes, viz. that he shall be out of the King’s protection, and that he be put in prison without baile or mainprise till that he have made fine at the King’s will, and that his landes and goods shal be forfait, if he come not within ij. moneths. “Ã¢â‚¬â€?Termes de la Ley, 1595, fol. 144. The object of the writ was to prevent the abuse of spiritual power. Now, here is a law-term quite out of the common, which is used by Shakespeare with a well-deployed knowledge of the power of the writ of which it is the name.
Must we, therefore, suppose that Shakespeare had obtained his knowledge of the purpose and the power of this writ in the course of professional reading or practice? If we looked no farther than Shakespeare’s page, such a supposition might seem to be warranted. But if we turn to Michael Drayton’s Legend of Great Cromwell, first published, we believe, in 1607, but certainly some years before Henry VIII was written, and the subject of which figures in that play, we find these lines, This Me to urge the Premunire wonne, Ordain’d in matters dangerous and hie; In t’ which the heedlesse Prelacie were runne That back into the Papacie did flie. ¢â‚¬â€? Ed. 1619, p. 382.
Here is the very phrase in question, used with a knowledge of its meaning and of the functions of the writ hardly less remarkable than that evinced in the passage from Henry VIII, though expressed in a different manner, owing chiefly to the fact that Drayton wrote a didactic poem and Shakespeare a drama. But Drayton is not known to have been an attorney’s clerk, nor has he been suspected, from his writings, or any other cause, to have had any knowledge of the law.
Both he and Shakespeare, however, read the Chronicles. Reading men perused Hall’s and Holinshed’s huge blackletter folios in Queen Elizabeth’s time with as much interest as they do Macaulay’s or Prescott’s elegant octavos in the reign of her successor, Victoria. Shakespeare drew again and again upon the former for the material of his historical plays; and in writing Henry VIII he adopted often the very language of the Chronicler.
The well-known description of Wolsey, which he puts into the mouth of Queen Katherine, He was a man Of an unbounded stomach, ever ranking Himself with princes; one that by suggestion Tith’d all the kingdom: Simony was fair play: His own opinion was his law: I’ the presence He would say untruths; and be ever double, Both in his words and meaning: He was never, But where he meant to ruin, pitiful: His promises were, as he then was, mighty; But his performance, as he is now, nothing: Of his own body he was ill, and gave The clergy ill example, is little more than the following paragraph from Holinshed put into verse: This cardinal as you may perceive in this storie was of a great stomach, for he compted himselfe equall with princes, and by craftie suggestion gat into his hands innumerable treasure: he forced little on simonie, and was not pittiful, and stood affectionate in his owne opinion: in open presence he would lie and saie untruth, and was double both in speach and meaning: he would promise much and performe little: he was vicious of his bodie, and gave the clergie evill example. Ã¢â‚¬â€?Ed. 1587, vol. iii. p. 922.
Turning back from the page on which the Chronicler comments upon the life of the dead prime-minister, to that on which he records his fall, we find these passages: In the meane time, the king, being informed that all those things that the cardinall had doone by his power legatine within this realme were in the case of the premunire and provision, caused his attornie, Christopher Hales, to sue out a writ of premunire against him. . . . . . After this in the king’s bench his matter for the premunire being called upon, two atturneis which he had authorised by his warrant, signed with his owne hand, confessed the action, and so bad judgement to forfeit all his lands, tenements, goods, and cattels, and to be out of the king’s protection. Ã¢â‚¬â€?Ib. p. 909.
If the reader will look back at the passage touching the premunire, quoted above, he will see that these few lines from Raphael Holinshed are somewhat fatal to an argument in favor of Shakespeare’s “legal acquirements,” in so far as it rests in any degree upon the use of terms or the knowledge displayed in that passage. Shakespeare and Drayton are here in the same boat, though “not with the same sculls. ” Before we shelve HolinshedÃ¢â‚¬â€?for the good Raphael’s folios are like Falstaff in size, if not in wit, and, when once laid flat-long, require levers to set them up on end againÃ¢â‚¬â€?let us see if he cannot help us to account for more of the “legalisms” that our Lord Chief Justice and our barrister have “smelt out” in Shakespeare’s historical plays. Mr. Rushton quotes the following passages from Richard II: York. Is not Gaunt dead? and doth not Hereford live?
* * * Take Hereford’s rights away, and take from time His charters and his customary rights; Let not to-morrow, then, ensue to-day: Be not thyself; for how art thou a king, But by fair sequence and succession? Now, afore God, God forbid I say true! If you do wrongfully seize Hereford’s rights, Call in the letters patents that he hath By his attorneys-general to sue, His livery, and deny his offer’d homage, You pluck a thousand dangers on your head. Ã¢â‚¬â€?Act ii. Sc. 1. Bol. I am denied to sue my livery here, And yet my letters patents give me leave: My father’s goods are all distrain’d and sold; And these, and all, are all amiss employed. What would you have me do?
I am a subject, And challenge law: Attorneys are denied me; And therefore personally I lay my claim To my inheritance of free descent. Ã¢â‚¬â€?Ib. Sc. 3. And Lord Campbell, although he passes by these passages in Richard II, quotes, as important, from a speech of Hotspur’s in the First Part of Henry IV, the following lines, which, it will be seen, refer to the same act of oppression on the part of Richard II towards Bolingbroke: He came but to be Duke of Lancaster, To sue his livery and beg his bread. Ã¢â‚¬â€?Act iv. Sc. 3. But, here again, Shakespeare, although he may have known more law than Holinshed, or even Hall, who was a barrister, only used the law-terms that he found in the paragraph which furnished him with the incident that he dramatized.
For, after recording the death of Gaunt, the Chronicle goes on: The death of this duke gave occasion of increasing more hatred in the people of this realme toward the king; for he seized into his hands all the rents and reuenues of his hands which ought to have descended unto the duke of Hereford by lawfull inheritance, in reuoking his letters patents which he had granted to him before, by virtue whereof he might make, his attorneis generall to sue liverie for him of any manner of inheritances or possessions that might from thencefoorth fall unto him, and that his homage might be respited with making reasonable fine, etc. Ã¢â‚¬â€?HOLINSHED, Ed. 1587, p. 496.
The only legal phrase, however, in these passages of Richard II, which seems to imply very extraordinary legal knowledge, is the one repeated in Henry IVÃ¢â‚¬â€?”sue his livery,”Ã¢â‚¬â€?which was the term applied to the process by which, in the old feudal tenures, wards, whether of the king or other guardian, on arriving at legal age, could compel a delivery of their estates to them from their guardians. But hence, it became a metaphorical expression to mean merely the attainment of majority, and in this sense seems to have been very generally understood and not uncommonly used. See the following, from an author who was no attorney or attorney’s clerk: If Cupid Shoot arrows of that weight, I’ll swear devoutly H’as sued his livery and is no more a boy. Ã¢â‚¬â€?FLETCHER’S Woman’s Prize, Act ii. Sc. 1. And this, from the works of a divine: Our little Cupid hath sued livery And is no more in his minority. Ã¢â‚¬â€?DONNE’S Eclogues, 1613.
Spenser, too, uses the phrase figuratively in another sense, in the following passageÃ¢â‚¬â€?which may be one of those which Chalmers had in his eye, when, according to Lord Campbell, he “first suggested” that Shakespeare was once an attorney’s clerk: She gladly did of that same Babe accept, As of her owne by liverey and seisin; And having over it a little wept, She bore it thence, and ever as her owne it kept. Ã¢â‚¬â€?Faerie Queene, B. VI. C. iv. st. 37. So, for instance of the phrase “fee,” which Lord Campbell notices as one of those expressions and allusions which “crop out” in Hamlet, “showing the substratum of law in the author “mind,” We go to gain a little patch of ground, That hath in it no profit but the name.
To pay five ducats, five, I would not farm it; Nor will it yield to Norway or the Pole A ranker rate, should it be sold in fee. Ã¢â‚¬â€?Act iv. Sc. 2. and of which Mr. Rushton quotes several instances in its fuller form, “fee simple,”Ã¢â‚¬â€?we have but to turn back a few stanzas in this same canto of the Faerie Queene, to find one in which the term is used with the completest apprehension of its meaning: So is my lord now seiz’d of fill the land, As in his fee, with peaceable estate, And quietly doth hold it in his hand, Ne any dares with him for it debate. Ã¢â‚¬â€?Ib. st. 30. And in the next canto: Of which the greatest part is due to me, And heaven itself, by heritage in fee. Ã¢â‚¬â€?Ib. C. vii. st. 15.
And in the first of these two passages from the Faerie Queene, we have two words, “seized” and “estate,” intelligently and correctly used in their purely legal sense, as Shakespeare himself uses them in the following passages, which our Chief Justice and our barrister have both passed by, as, indeed, they have passed many others equally worthy of notice: Did forfeit with his life all those his lands Which he stood seiz’d of to the conqueror. Ã¢â‚¬â€?Hamlet, Act i. Sc. 1. The terms of our estate may not endure Hazard so near us, Ã¢â‚¬â€?Ib. Act iii. Sc. 3. Part Three – William Shakespeare – Attorney At Law Among the most important passages cited by both our authors is one that every reader of Shakespeare will recollect, when it is mentioned to himÃ¢â‚¬â€?Hamlet’s speech over the, skull in the grave-digging scene. But although this speech is remarkable for the number of law terms used in it, only one of them seems to evince any recondite knowledge of the law.
This is the word “statutes,” in the following sentence: This fellow might be in’s time a buyer of land, with his statutes, his recognizances, his fines, his double vouchers, his recoveries. Ã¢â‚¬â€?Act v. Sc. 1. The general reader supposes, we believe, and very naturally, that here “statutes” means laws, Acts of Parliament concerning real estate. But, as Mr. Rushton remarks, Malone having explained the term before him, “The statutes referred to by Hamlet are, doubtless, statutes merchant and statutes staple. ” And “a statute merchant so called from the 13th Edward I, De mercatoribus was a bond acknowledged before one of the clerks of the statutes merchant, and the mayor, etc. , etc.
A statute staple, properly so called, was a bond of record, acknowledged before the mayor of the staple,” etc. , etc. Here we again have a law-term apparently so out of the ken of an unprofessional writer, that it would seem to flavor the Attorney and Solicitor theory. But let us see if the knowledge which its use implies was confined to Shakespeare among the dramatists of his time. In Fletcher’s “Noble Gentleman,” a comedy, first performed in 1625, we find a lady, sorely pushed for ready cash, crying out, Take up at any use: give bond, or land, Or mighty statutes, able by their strength To tie up Samson, were he now alive. Ã¢â‚¬â€?Act i. Sc. 1.
And in Middleton’s Family of Love, where, by the way, the Free-Love folk of our own day may find their peculiar notions set forth and made the basis of the action, though the play was printed two hundred and fifty years ago we find a female free-loveyer thus teaching a mercantile brother of the family, that, although she has a sisterly disregard for some worldly restraints, she yet keeps an eye on the main chance: Tut, you are master Dryfab, the merchant: your skill is greater in cony-skins and woolpacks than in gentlemen. His lands be in statutes: you merchants were wont to be merchant staplers; but now gentlemen have gotten up the trade; for there is not one gentleman amongst twenty but his lands be engaged in twenty statutes staple. Ã¢â‚¬â€?Act i. Sc. 3.
And in the very first speech of the first scene of the same play, the husband of this virtuous and careful dame says of the same “Gerardine,” who, as he is poor and a gentleman, it need hardly be said, is about the only honest man in the piece,Ã¢â‚¬â€?”His lands be in statutes. And that poor debauchee, Robert Greene, who knew no more of law than be might have derived from such limited, though authentic information as to its powers over gentlemen who made debts without the intention of paying them, as he may have received at frequent unsolicited interviews with a sergeant or a bum-bailiff, has this passage in his Quip for an Upstart Courtier, 1592: ”
The mercer he followeth the young upstart gentleman that bath no government of himself and feedeth his humour to go brave: he shall not want silks, sattins, velvets to pranke abroad in his pompe; but with this proviso, that he must bind over his land in a statute merchant or staple; and so at last forfeit all unto the merciless mercer, and leave himself never a foot of land in England. ” Very profound legal studies, therefore, cannot be predicated of Shakespeare on the ground of the knowledge which he has shown of this peculiar kind of statute. It is not surprising that both our legal Shakespearean commentators cite the following passage from As You Like It in support of their theory; for in it the word “extent” is used in a sense so purely technical, that not one in a thousand of Shakespeare’s lay readers nowadays would understand it without a note: Duke F. Well, push him out of doors, And let my officers of such a nature Make an extent upon his house and lands. Ã¢â‚¬â€?Act iii. Sc. 1. “Extent,” as Mr.
Rushton remarks, is directed to the sheriff to seize and value lands and goods to the utmost extent; “an extendi facias,” as Lord Campbell authoritatively says, “applying to the house and lands as a fieri facias would apply to goods and chattels, or a capias ad satisfaciendum to the person. ” But that John Fletcher knew, as well as my Lord Chief Justice, or Mr. Barrister Rushton, or even, perhaps, William Shakespeare, all the woes that followed an extent, the elder Mr. Weller at least would not have doubted, had he in the course of his literary leisure fallen upon the following passage in Wit Without Money 1630: Val. Mark me, widows Are long extents in law upon men’s livings, Upon their bodies’ winding-sheets: they that enjoy ’em. Lie but with dead men’s monuments, find beget Only their own ill epitaphs. Ã¢â‚¬â€?Act ii. Sc. 2.
George Wilkins, too, the obscure author of The Miseries of Enforced Marriage, uses the term with as full an understanding, though not with so feeling an expression or so scandalous an illustration of it, in the following passage from the fifth act of that play, which was produced about 1605 or 1606: “They are usurers; they come yawning for money; and the sheriff with them is come to serve an extent upon your land, and then seize your body by force of execution. ” Another seemingly recondite law-phrase used by Shakespeare, which Lord Campbell passes entirely by, though Mr. Rushton quotes three instances of it, is “taken with the manner. ” This has nothing to do with good manners or ill manners; but, in the words of the old law-book before cited, “is when a theefe hath stollen and is followed with hue and crie and taken, having that found about him which he stoleÃ¢â‚¬â€?that is called ye maynour.
And so we commonly use to saye, when wee finde one doing of an unlawfull act, that we tooke him with the maynour or manner. ” Ã¢â‚¬â€?Termes de la Ley, 1595, fol. 126, b. Shakespeare, therefore, uses the phrase with perfect understanding, when he makes Prince Hal say to Bardolph, O villain, thou stolest a cup of sack eighteen years ago, and wert taken with the manner, and ever since thou hast blushed extempore. ” Ã¢â‚¬â€?1 Henry IV. Act ii. Sc. 4. But so Fletcher uses the same phrase, and as correctly, when he makes Perez say to Estefania, in Rule a Wife and Have a Wife, How like a sheep-biting rogue, taken I’ the manner, And ready for the halter, dost thou look now! Ã¢â‚¬â€?Act v. Sc. 4.
But both Fletcher and Shakespeare, in their use of this phrase, unusual as it now seems to us, have only exemplified the custom referred to by our contemporary local authority,Ã¢â‚¬â€?”And so we commonly use to saye, when wee finde one doing of an unlawfull act, that we tooke him with the maynour”; though this must doubtless be understood to refer to persons of a certain degree of education and knowledge of the world. It seems, then, that the application of legal phraseology to the ordinary affairs of life was more common two hundred and fifty years ago than now; though even now-a-days it is much more generally used in the rural districts than persons who have not lived in them would suppose. There law shares with agriculture the function of providing those phrases of common conversation which, used figuratively at first, and often with poetic feeling, soon pass into mere thought-saving formulas of speech, and which in large cities are, chiefly drawn from trade and politics.
And if in the use of the law-terms upon which we have remarked, which are the more, especially technical and remote from the language, of unprofessional life, among all those which occur in Shakespeare’s works, he was not singular, but, as we have seen, availed himself only of a knowledge which other contemporary poets and playwrights possessed, how much more easily might we show that those commoner legal words and phrases, to remarks upon Shakespeare’s use of which both the books before us and especially Lord Campbell’s are mainly devoted, “judgment,” “fine,” “these presents,” “testaments,” “attorney”, “arbitrator”, “fees,” “bond,” “lease,” “pleading,” “arrest,” “session,” “mortgage,” “vouchers,” “indentures,” “assault,” “battery,” “dower,” “covenant,” “distrain,” “bail,” “non-suit”, etc. , etc. , etc. Ã¢â‚¬â€?words which everybody understandsÃ¢â‚¬â€?are scattered through all the literature of Shakespeare’s time, and, indeed, of all time since there were courts and suits at law! Many of the passages which Lord Campbell cites as evidence of Shakespeare’s “legal acquirements” excite only a smile at the self-delusion of the critic who could regard them for a moment in that light.
For instance, these lines in that most exquisite song in Measure for MeasureÃ¢â‚¬â€?”Take, oh, take those lips away”Ã¢â‚¬â€? But my kisses bring again Seals of love, but seal’d in vain and these from Venus and Adonis, Pure lips, sweet seals in my soft lips imprinted, What bargains may I make, still to be sealing! to which Mr. Rushton adds from Hamlet A combination and a form, indeed, Where every god did seem to set his seal. Ã¢â‚¬â€?Act iii. Sc. 4. Now must your conscience my acquittance seal. Ã¢â‚¬â€?Act iv. Sc. 7. And because indentures and deeds and covenants are scaled, these passages must be accepted as part of the evidence that Shakespeare narrowly escaped being made Lord High Chancellor of England It requires all the learning and the logic of a Lord Chief Justice and a London barrister to establish a connection between such premises and such a conclusion.
And if Shakespeare’s lines smell of law, how strong is the odor of parchment and red tape in these, from Drayton’s Fourth Eclogue 1605: Kindnesse againe with kindnesse was repay’d, And with sweet kisses couenants were sealed. We ask pardon of the reader for the production of contemporary evidence, that, in Shakespeare’s day, a knowledge of the significance and binding nature of a seal was not confined to him among poets; for surely a man must be both a lawyer and a Shakespearean commentator to forget that the use of seals is as old as the art of writing, and, perhaps, older, and that the practice has furnished a figure of speech to poets from the time when it was written, that out of the whirlwind Job heard, “It is turned as clay to the seal,” and probably from a period yet more remote.
And is Lord Campbell really in earnest in the following grave and precisely expressed opinion? “In the next scene, Shakespeare gives us a very distinct proof that he was acquainted with Admiralty law, as well as with the procedure of Westminster Hall. Describing the feat of the Moor in carrying off Desdemona against her father’s consent, which might either make or mar his fortune, according as the act might be sanctioned or nullified, Iago observes, Faith, he tonight hath boarded a land carack: If it prove a lawful prize, he’s made forever; the trope indicating that there would be a suit in the High Court of Admiralty to determine the validity of the capture”! Ã¢â‚¬â€?p. 91.
Why did not his Lordship go farther, and decide, that, in the figurative use of the term, “land carack,” Shakespeare gave us very distinct proof that he was acquainted with maritime life, and especially with the carrying-trade between Spain and the West Indies? We respectfully submit to the court the following passage from Middleton and Rowley’s ChanglingÃ¢â‚¬â€?first published in 1653, but written many years before. Jasperino, seeing a lady, calls out, Yonder’s another vessell: He board her: if she be lawfull prize, down goes her topsail. Ã¢â‚¬â€?Act i. Sig. B. 2. And with it we submit the following points, and ask a decision in our favor. First, That they, the said Middleton and Rowley, have furnished, in the use of the phrase “lawful prize”, in this passage, very distinct proof that they were acquainted with Admiralty law.
Second, That, in the use of the other phrases, “board,” and especially “down goes her topsail,” they have furnished yet stronger evidence that they had been sailors on board armed vessels, and that the trope indicates, that, had not the vessel or lady in question lowered her topsail or top-knot, she would them and there, have been put mercilessly to the sword. But what shall we think of thy acumen and the judgment of a Chief Justice, a man of letters, and a man of the world, who brings forward such passages as the following as part of the evidence bearing upon the question of Shakespeare’s legal acquirements? Come; fear not you: good counsellors lack no clients. Ã¢â‚¬â€?Measure for Measure. Act i. Sc. 2. One that before the judgment carries poor souls to hell. Ã¢â‚¬â€?Comedy of Errors. Act iv. Sc. 2.
Well, Time is the old Justice that examines all such offenders,Ã¢â‚¬â€?and let Time try. Ã¢â‚¬â€?As You Like It. Act iv. Sc. 1. And that old common arbitrator, Time. Ã¢â‚¬â€?Troilus and Cressida. Act iv. Sc. 5. No cock of mine; you crow too like a craven. Ã¢â‚¬â€?Taming of the Shrew. Act ii. Sc. 1. Bestial oblivion or some craven scruple. Ã¢â‚¬â€?Hamlet. Act iv. Sc. 4. By which last line, according to Lord Campbell, p. 55 “Shakespeare shows that he was acquainted with the law for regulating ‘trials by battle'”! But to proceed with the passages quoted in evidence: Is not this a lamentable thing, that of the skin of an innocent lamb should be made parchment? that parchment, being scribbled o’er, should undo a man?
Some say, the bee stings: but I say, ’tis the bee’s wax; I did but seal once to a thing, and I was never mine own mine since. “Ã¢â‚¬â€?2 Henry VI, Act vi. Sc. 2. Upon citing which, Ms Lordship exclaims, “Surely Shakespeare must have been employed to write deeds on parchment in courthand, and to apply the wax to them in the form of seals. One does not understand how he should, on any other theory of his bringing-up, have been acquainted with these details”! One does not; but we submit to the court, that, if two were to lay their heads together after the manner of Sydney Smith’s vestryman, they might bring it about. Part Four – William Shakespeare – Attorney At Law In aid of his Lordship’s further studies, we make the following suggestion.
He doubtless knows that one of the earliest among our small stock of traditions about Shakespeare is that recorded by Aubrey as being derived from Stratford authority, that his father was a butcher, and that “when he was a boy he exercised his father’s trade, but when he kill’d a calfe, he wold do it in a high style, and make a speech. ” When his Lordship considers this old tradition in connection with the following passage in one of Shakespeare’s earliest plays, Who finds the heifer dead and bleeding fresh, And sees fast by a butcher with an axe, But will suspect ’twas he that made the slaughter, Ã¢â‚¬â€?2 Henry V1. Act iii. Sc. 2. how can he resist the conclusion, that, although the divine Williams may not have run with “Forty,” it is highly probable that he did kill for Keyser?
Let his Lordship also remember that other old tradition, by Rowe, that John Shakespeare was “a considerable dealer in wool,” and that William, upon leaving school, “seems to have given entirely into that way of living which his father proposed to him”; and remember, also, this passage from another of Shakespeare’s earliest plays He is too picked, too spruce, too affected, too odd, as it were, too peregrinate, as I may call it . . . . . He draweth out the thread of his verbosity finer than the staple of his argument. Ã¢â‚¬â€?Love’s Labor’s Lost. Act v. Sc. 1. Is there not a goodly part of the wool-stapler’s craft, as well as of the art of rhetoric, compressed into that one sentence by the, hydraulic power of Shakespeare’s genius?
Does it not show that he was initiated in the mysteries of long and short staple before he wrote this, perhaps, his earliest play? But look again at the following passage, also written when his memory of his boyish days was freshest, and see the evidence that both these traditions were well founded: So, first, the harmless sheep doth yield his fleece; And, next, his throat unto the butcher’s knife. Could these lines have been written by a man who had not been both a considerable dealer in wool, and a butcher who killed a calf in high style and made a speech? Who can have a doubt about this matter, when he appreciates rightly the following passage in Hamlet, Act v. Sc. 2 and is penetrated with the wisdom of two wise commentators upon it? Our indiscretion sometimes serves us well, When our deep plots do pall; and that should teach us There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, Rough-hew them how we will. Dr. Farmer informs me that these words are merely technical. A wool-man, butcher, and dealer in skewers lately observed to him that his nephew an idle lad could only assist him in making them;Ã¢â‚¬â€?he could rough-hew them, but I was obliged to shape their ends! To shape the ends of wool-skewers, i. e. , to point them, requires a degree of skill; any one can rough-hew them. Whoever recollects the profession of Shakespeare’s father will admit that his son might be no stranger to such terms. I have frequently seen packages of wool pinn’d up with skewers. “Ã¢â‚¬â€?STEEVENS.
Lucky wool-man, butcher, and dealer in skewers! to furnish at once a comment upon the great philosophical tragedy and a proof that its author and you were both of a trade! Fortunate Farmer, to have heard the story! and most sagacious Steevens, to have penetrated its hidden meaning, recollecting felicitously that you had seen packages of wool pinned up with skewers! But, O wisest, highest-and-deepest-minded Shakespeare, to have remembered, as you were propounding, Hamlet-wise, one of the great unsolvable mysteries of life, the skewers that you, being an idle lad, could but rough-hew, leaving to your careful father the skill-requiring task to shape their ends! ¢â‚¬â€?ends without which they could not have bound together the packages of wool with which you loaded the carts that backed up to the door in Henley Street, or have penetrated the veal of the calves that you killed in such a high style and with so much eloquence, and which loaded the tray that you daily bore on your shoulder to the kitchen-door of New Place, yet unsuspecting that you were to become its master! Y
et we would not too strongly insist upon this evidence, that Shakespeare in his boyhood served both as a butcher’s and a wool-stapler’s apprentice; for we venture to think that we have discovered evidence in his works that their author was a tailor. For, in the first place, the word “tailor” occurs no less than thirty-five times in his plays. The reader is to suppose that we are able to record this fact by an intimate acquaintance with every line that Shakespeare wrote, and by a prodigious effort of memory, and not by reference to Mrs. Clark’s Concordance. ] “Measures” occurs nearly thrice as often; “shears “is found no less than six times; “thimble,” three times; “goose,” no less than twenty-seven times! and when we find, that, in all his thirty-seven plays, the word “cabbage “occurs but once, and then with the deliberate explanation that it means “worts “and is “good cabbage,” may we not regard such reticence upon this tender point as a touching confirmation of the truth of our theory?
See, too, the comparison which Shakespeare uses, when he desires to express the service to which his favorite hero, Prince Hal, will put the manners of his wild companions: So, like gross terms, The Prince will, in the perfectness of time, Cast off his followers; and their memory Shall as a pattern or a measure live By which his Grace must mete the lives of others. Ã¢â‚¬â€?2 Henry IV, Act iv. Sc. 4. And in writing one of his earliest plays, Shakespeare’s mind seems to have been still so impressed with memories of his former vocation, that he made the outraged Valentine, as his severest censure of Proteus, reproach him with being badly dressed: Ruffian, let go that rude, uncivil touch! Thou friend of an ill fashion! Ã¢â‚¬â€?Act v. Sc. 4.
Cleopatra, too, who, we may be sure from her conduct, was addicted to very “low necks,” after Antony’s death becomes serious, and declares her intention to have something “after the high Roman fashion. ” And what but a reminiscence of the disgust which a tailor of talent has for mending is it that breaks out in the Barons’ defiant message to King John? The King hath dispossess’d himself of us; We will not line his thin bestained cloak. Ã¢â‚¬â€?King John, Act iv. Sc. 3. A memory, too, of the profuse adornment with which he had been called upon to decorate some very tender youth’s or miss’s fashionable suit intrudes itself even in his most thoughtful tragedy: The canker galls the infants of the Spring Too oft before their buttons be disclos’d. Ã¢â‚¬â€?Hamlet, Act i. Sc. 3.
In Macbeth, desiring to pay the highest compliment to Macduff’s judgment and knowledge, he makes Lennox say, He is noble, wise, judicious, and best knows The fits of the season. Ã¢â‚¬â€?Act iv. Sc. 2. Not the last fall or last spring style, be it observed, but that of the season, which it is most necessary for the fashionable tailor to know. In writing the first scene of the Second Part of Henry IV, his mind was evidently crossed by the shade of some over-particular dandy, whose fastidious nicety as to the set of his garments he had failed to satisfy; for he makes Northumberland compare himself to a man who, Impatient of his fit, breaks like a fire Out of his keeper’s arms. And yet we must not rely too much even upon evidence so strong and so cumulative as this.
For it would seem as if Shakespeare must have been a publisher, and have known the anxiety attendant upon the delay of an author not in high health to complete a work the first part of which has been put into the printer’s hands. Else, how are we to account for his feeling use of this beautiful metaphor in Twelfth Night? Lady, you are the cruell’st she alive, If you will lead these graces to the grave, And leave the world no copy. Ã¢â‚¬â€?Act i. Sc. 5. But this part of our subject expands before us, and we must stay our hand. We merely offer these hints as our modest contribution to the attempts to decide from phrases used in Shakespeare’s works what were his avocations before he became a playwright, and return to Lord Campbell and Mr. Rushton.
When Malone, in 1790, broached his theory, that Shakespeare had been an attorney’s clerk, he cited in support of it twenty-four passages. Mr. Rushton’s pamphlet brings forward ninety-five, more or less; Lord Campbell’s book, one hundred and sixty. But, from what he has seen of it, the reader will not be surprised at learning that a large number of the passages cited by his Lordship must be thrown aside, as having no bearing whatever on the question of Shakespeare’s legal acquirements. They evince no more legal knowledge, no greater familiarity with legal phraseology, than is apparent in the ordinary conversation of intelligent people generally, even at this day. Mr.
Rushton, more systematic than his Lordship, has been also more careful; and from the pages of both we suppose that there might be selected a round hundred of phrases which could be fairly considered as having been used by Shakespeare with a consciousness of their original technicality and of their legal purport. This is not quite in the proportion of three to each of his thirty-seven plays; and if we reckon his sonnets and poems according to their lines, and both Mr. Rushton and Lord Campbell cite from them, the proportion falls to considerably less than three. But Malone’s twenty-four instances are of nearly as much value in the consideration of the question as Lord Campbell’s and Mr.
Rushton’s hundred; for the latter gentlemen have added little to the strength, though considerably to the number, of the array on the affirmative side of the, point in dispute; and we have seen, that, of the law-phrases cited by them from Shakespeare’s pages, the most recondite, as well as the most common and simple, are to be found in the works of the Chroniclers, whose very language Shakespeare used, and in those of the playwrights his contemporaries. Our new advocates of the old cause, however, quote two passages which, from the freedom with which law-phrases are scattered through them, it is worth while to reproduce here. The first is the, well-known speech in the grave-digging scene of Hamlet: Ham. There’s another: Why may not that be the skull of a lawyer? Where be his quiddits now, his quillets, his cases, his tenures, and his tricks? why does he suffer this rude knave, now, to knock him about the sconce with a dirty shovel, and will not tell him of his action of battery? Humph!
This fellow might be in’s time a great buyer of land, with his statutes, his recognizances, his fines, his double vouchers, his recoveries: Is this the fine of his fines, and the recovery of his recoveries, to have his fine pate full of fine dirt? will his vouchers vouch him no more of his purchases, and double ones, too, than the length and breadth of a pair of indentures? The very conveyances of his lands will hardly lie in this box; and must the inheritor himself have no more? ha? Ã¢â‚¬â€?Act v. Sc. 1. The second is the following Sonnet, No. 46 not only the language, but the very fundamental conceit of which, it will be seen, is purely legal: Mine Eye and Heart are at a mortal war How to divide the conquest of thy sight; Mine Eye my Heart thy picture’s sight would bar, My Heart mine Eye the freedom of that right.
My Heart doth plead that thou in him dost lie A closet never pierc’d with crystal eyes; But the defendant doth that plea deny, And says in him thy fair appearance lies. To ‘cide this title is impanelled A quest of thoughts, all tenants to the Heart, And by their verdict is determined The clear Eye’s moiety, and the dear Heart’s part; As thus: Mine Eye’s due is thine outward part, And my Heart’s right, thine inward love of heart. It would seem, indeed, as if passages like these must be received as evidence that Shakespeare had more familiarity with legal phraseology if not a greater knowledge of it, than could have been acquired except by habitual use in the course of professional occupation. But let us see if he is peculiar even in this crowding of many law-terms into a single brief passage.
We turn to the very play open at our hand, from which we have quoted before, and which, by the way, we have not selected as exceptional in this regard The Miseries of Enforced Marriage, and find the following passage in Act V: Doctor. Now, Sir, from this your oath and bond, Faith’s pledge and seal of conscience, You have run, Broken all contracts, and the forfeiture Justice hath now in suit against your soul: Angels are made the jurors, who are witnesses Unto the oath you took; and God himself, Maker of marriage, He that hath seal’d the deed, As a firm lease unto you during life, Sits now as Judge of your transgression: The world informs against you with this voice, If such sins reign, what mortals can rejoice? Scarborow. What then ensues to me? Doctor. A heavy doom, whose execution’s Now served upon your conscience, Ã¢â‚¬â€?p. 91, D. O. P. , Ed. 1825.
Indeed, the hunting of a metaphor or a conceit into the ground is a fault characteristic of Elizabethan literature, and one from which Shakespeare’s boldness, no less than his genius, was required to save him; and we have seen already how common was the figurative use of law-phrases among the poets and dramatists of his period. Hamlet’s speech and the Forty-sixth Sonnet cannot, therefore, be accepted as evidence of his attorneyship, except in so far as they and like passages may be regarded as giving some support to the opinion that Shakespeare was but one of many in his time who abandoned law for letters. For we object not so much to the conclusion at which Lord Campbell arrives as to his mode of arriving at it. His ethod of investigation, which is no method at all, but the mere noting of passages in the order in which he found them in looking, through Shakespeare’s works, is the rudest and least intelligent that could have been adopted; and his inference, that, because Shakespeare makes Jack Cade lament that the skin of an innocent lamb should be made parchment, and affirm that it is not the bee, but the bee’s wax, that stings, therefore he must have been employed to write deeds on parchment and append wax to them in the form of seals, is a fair specimen both of the acuteness and the logic which his Lordship displays in this his latest effort to unite Law and Literature. Part Five – William Shakespeare – Attorney At Law There are, however, very considerable grounds for the opinion that Shakespeare had more than a layman’s acquaintance with the technical language of the law. For it must be admitted, in the first place, that he exhibits a remarkable acquaintance with it. That other playwrights and poets of his day manifest a like familiarity as we have seen they do precludes us, indeed, from regarding the mere occurrence of law-terms in his works as indications of early training proper to him alone.
But they who, on the strength of the not unfrequent occurrence of legal phrases in many of the plays and much of the poetry of the Elizabethan period, would maintain that Shakespeare’s use of them furnishes no basis for the opinion that he acquired his knowledge of them professionally, must also assume and support the position, that, in the case of contemporary dramatists and poets, this use of the technical language of conveyancing and pleading also indicates no more than an ordinary acquaintance with it, and that, in comparing his works with theirs in this regard, we may assume the latter to have been produced by men who had no professional acquaintance with the law; because, if they had such professional acquaintance with legal phraseology, its appearance in their works as well as in Shakespeare’s would manifestly strengthen rather than invalidate the conclusion, that his familiarity with it was acquired as they acquired theirs.
This position is, to say the least, a very difficult one to maintain, and one which any considerate student of Elizabethan literature would be very unwilling to assume. For our ignorance of the personal life of Shakespeare is remarkable only because he was Shakespeare; and we know little, if any, more about the greater number of his literary contemporaries than we do about him. It cannot even be safely presumed, for instance, that George Wilkins, the author of the law-besprinkled passage just above quoted from the Miseries of Enforced Marriage, was not a practising attorney or barrister before or even at the time when he wrote that play.
On the contrary, it is extremely probable, nay, quite certain, that he and many other dramatic authors of the period when he flourished, 1600-1620, and of the whole Elizabethan period, 1575-1625 were nestling attorneys or barristers before they became full-fledged dramatists. We are not without contemporary evidence upon this point. Thomas Nash, friend to. Robert Greene, a playwright, poet, and novelist, whose works were in vogue just before Shakespeare wrote, in an Epistle to the Gentlemen Students of the Two Universities, with which, according to the fashion of the time, he introduced Greene’s Menaphon 1587* to the reader, has the following paragraph: I will turn my back to my first text of studies of delight, and talk a little in friendship with a few of our trivial translators.
It is a common practice, now-a-days, amongst a sort of shifting companions that run through every art and thrive by none, to leave the trade of Noverint, whereto they were born, and busy themselves with the endeavors of art, that could scarcely Latinize their neck-verse, if they should have need; yet English Seneca, read by candlelight, yields many good sentences, as, Blood is a beggar, and so forth; and if you intreat him fair in a frosty morning, he will afford you whole HamletsÃ¢â‚¬â€?I should say, handfuls of tragical speeches. But, oh, grief! Tempus edax rerumÃ¢â‚¬â€?what is that will last always? The sea, exhaled by drops, will, ill continuance, be dry; and Seneca, let blood line by line and page by page, at length must needs die to our stage. It has most unaccountably been assumed that this passage refers to Shakespeare;Ã¢â‚¬Â and it is even so cited by Lord Campbell himselfÃ¢â‚¬â€?to our surprise, when we remember his professional training and experience as a sifter of evidence.
But, as far as regards its reference to a leaving of law for literature, it is clearly of general application. Nash says, “It is a common practice, now-a-days, amongst a sort of shifting companions, etc. , to leave the trade of Noverint, whereto they were born, and busy themselves,” etc. By the trade of Noverint be meant that of an attorney. The term was not uncommonly applied to members of that profession, because of the phrase, Noverint universi per presentes, Know all men by these presents, with which deeds, bonds, and many other legal instruments then began. And Nash’s testimony accords with what we know of the social and literary history of the age.
There was no regular army in Elizabeth’s time; and the younger sons of gentlemen and well-to-do yeomen, who received from their fathers little more than an education and a very small allowance, and who did not become either military or maritime adventurers, opening their oyster with a sword, entered the Church or the profession of the law in its higher or lower grade; and as at that period there was much more demand for lawyers and much less for clergymen than there is now, and the Church had ceased to be a stepping stone to political power and patronage, while the law had become more than ever before an avenue to fame, to fortune, and to rank, by far the greater number of these young gentlemen aspired to the woolsack.
But then, as now, the early years of professional life were seasons of sharp trial and bitter disappointment. Necessity pressed sorely or pleasure wooed resistlessly, and the slender purse wasted rapidly away while the young attorney or barrister awaited the employment that did not come. He knew then, as now he knows, “the rich man’s scorn, the proud man’s contumely”; nay, he felt, as now he sometimes feels, the tooth of hunger gnawing through the principles and firm resolves that partition a life of honor and self-respect from one darkened by conscious loss of rectitude, if not by open shame. HappyÃ¢â‚¬â€?yet, perhaps, oh, unhappyÃ¢â‚¬â€?he who now in such a strait can wield the pen of a ready writer! ¢â‚¬â€?for the press, perchance, may afford him a support which, though temporary and precarious, will hold him up until he can stand upon more stable ground. But in the reigns of Good Queen Bess and Gentle Jamie there was no press. There was, however, an incessant demand for new plays. Play-going was the chief intellectual recreation of that day for
all classes, high and low. It filled the place of our newspapers, our books, our lectures, our concerts, our pictureseeing and, in a great measure, of our social gatherings and amusements, of whatever nature. It is hardly extravagant to say, that there were then more new plays produced in London in a month than there are now in Great Britain and the United States in a year.
To play-writing, then, the needy young attorney or barrister possessed of literary talent turned his eyes at that day, as he does now to journalism; and it is almost beyond a doubt, that, of the multitudinous plays of that period which have survived and the thousands which have perished, a large proportion were produced by the younger sons of country gentlemen, who, after taking their degrees at Oxford or Cambridge, or breaking away from those classic bounds ungraduated, entered the Inns of Court, according to the custom of their day and their condition. They wrote plays in Latin, and even in English, for themselves to act; and they got the professional players to act popular plays for them on festal days.
What more natural, then, than that those who had the ability and the need should seek to recruit their slender means by supplying the constant demand for new plays? and how inevitable that some of them, having been successful. n their dramatic efforts, should give themselves up to play-writing! As do the great, so will the small. What the Inns-of-Court man did, the attorney would try to do. The players, though they loved the patronage of a lord, were very democratic in the matter of playmaking. If a play filled the house, they did not trouble themselves about the social or professional rank of him who wrote it; and thus came about that “common practice” for “shifting companions” to “leave the trade of Noverint” and “busy themselves with the endeavors of art”; and hence it is that the plays of the period of which we are writing have, in many passages, so strong a tinge of law.
One reason for the regarding of Nash’s sneer as especially directed against Shakespeare is the occurrence in it of the phrase, “whole HamletsÃ¢â‚¬â€?I should say, handfuls of tragical speeches,” which has been looked upon as an allusion to Shakespeare’s great tragedy. But the earliest edition of Hamlet known was published in 1603, and even this is all imperfect and surreptitiously obtained copy of an early sketch of the play. That Shakespeare had written this tragedy in 1586, when he was but twenty-two years old, is improbable to the verge of impossibility; and Nash’s allusion, if, indeed, he meant a punning sneer at a play, which is not certain, was, doubtless, to an old lost version of the Danish tragedy upon which Shakespeare built Hamlet.
We have, then, direct contemporary testimony, that, at the period of Shakespeare’s entrance upon London ife, it was a common practice for those lawyers whom want of success or all unstable disposition impelled to a change in their avocation to devote themselves to writing or translating plays; and this statement is not only sustained by all that we know of the customs of the time to which it refers, but is strongly confirmed by the notably frequent occurrence of legal phrases in the dramatic literature of that age. But the question, then, arisesÃ¢â‚¬â€?and it is one which, under the, circumstances, must be answeredÃ¢â‚¬â€?To what must we attribute the fact, that, of all the plays that have come down to us, written between 1580 and 1620, Shakespeare’s are most noteworthy in this respect?
For it is true, that, among all the dramatic writers of that period, whose works have survived, not one uses the phraseology of the law with the frequency, the freedom, and the correctness of Shakespeare. Beaumont, for instance, was a younger son of a Judge of the Common Pleas, and, following the common routine that we have noticed, after leaving the University, became an Inns-of-Court man, but soon abandoned law for literature; his friend and associate, Fletcher, was the son of a bishop, but had an uncle who was a lawyer and a diplomatist, and is himself believed to have been of the Inns of Court. Rich gleanings of law-terms might, therefore, be expected from the plays written by these dramatists; yet it may safely be asserted, that from.
Shakespeare’s thirty-seven plays at least twice as many passages marked by legal phraseology might be produced, as from the fifty-four written by Beaumont and Fletcher, together or alone! a fact the great significance of which is heightened by anotherÃ¢â‚¬â€?that it is only the vocabulary of the law to the use of which Shakespeare exhibits this proclivity. He avails himself, it is true, of the peculiar language of the physician, the divine, the husbandman, the soldier, and the sailor; but he uses these only on very rare occasions, by way of description, comparison, or illustration, when something in the scene or the subject in hand suggests them. But the technical language of the law runs from his pen as part of his vocabulary and parcel of his thought.
The word “purchase,” for instance, which in ordinary use means to acquire by giving value, in law applies to all legal modes of obtaining property, except inheritance of descent. And the word in this peculiar and most technical sense occurs five times in Shakespeare’s thirty-seven plays, but only in a single passage if our memory and Mr. Dyce’s notes serve us in the fifty-four plays of Beaumont and Fletcher. Equal, or greater, is the comparative frequency with which Shakespeare uses other legal phrases; and much wider is the, disparity, in this regard, between him and the other dramatic writers of his whole periodÃ¢â‚¬â€?Marlowe, Greene, Peele, Kyd, Lilly, Chapman, Jonson, Middleton, Marston, Ford, Webster, Massinger, and the undistinguished crowd.
These facts dispose in great measure of the plausible suggestion which has been madeÃ¢â‚¬â€?that, as the courts of law in Shakespeare’s time occupied public attention much more than they do at present, they having then regulated “the season,” as the sittings of Parliament not then frequent or stated do now,Ã¢â‚¬Â¡ they would naturally be frequented by the restless, inquiring spirits of the time, Shakespeare among them, and that there he and his fellow-dramatists picked up the law-phrases which they wove into their plays and poems. But if this view of the case were the correct one, we should not find that disparity in the use of legal phrases which we have just remarked.
Shakespeare’s genius would manifest itself in the superior effect with which he used knowledge acquired in this manner; but his genius would not have led him to choose the dry and affected phraseology of the law as the vehicle of his flowing thought, and to use it so much oftener than any other of the numerous dramatists of his time, to all of whom the courts were as open as to him. And the suggestion which we are now considering fails in two other most important respects. For we do not find either that Shakespeare’s use of legal phrases increased with his opportunities of frequenting the courts of law, or that the law-phrases, his use of which is most noteworthy and of most importance in the consideration of the question before us, are those which he would have heard oftenest in the course of the ordinary business of the courts in his day.
To look at the latter point first, the law-terms used by Shakespeare are generally not those which he would have heard in ordinary trials at nisi prius or before the King’s Bench, but such as refer to the tenure or transfer of real property, “fine and recovery,” “statutes,” “purchase,” “indenture,” “tenure,” “double voucher,” “fee simple,” “fee farm,” “remainder,” “reversion,” “dower,” “forfeiture,” etc. , etc. ; and it is important to remember that suits about the title to real estate are very much rarer in England than they are with us, and in England were very much rarer in Shakespeare’s time than they are now. Here we buy and sell houses and lands almost as we trade in corn and cotton; but in England the transfer of the title of a piece of real estate of any consequence is a serious and comparatively rare occurrence, that makes great work for attorneys and conveyancing counsel; and two hundred and fifty years ago the facilities in this respect were very much less than they are now.
Shakespeare could hardly have picked up his conveyancer’s jargon by hanging round the courts of law; and we findÃ¢â‚¬â€?to return to the first objectionÃ¢â‚¬â€?that, in his early plays, written just after he arrived in London, he uses this peculiar phraseology just as freely and with as exact a knowledge as he displayed in after years, when on the supposition in question he must have become much more familiar with it. Shakespeare’s earliest work that has reached us is, doubtless, to be found in King Henry the Sixth, The Comedy of Errors, and Love’s Labor’s Lost. In the very earliest form of Part II of the first-named play “The First Part of the Contention betwixt the two Houses of York and Lancaster,” to which Shakespeare was doubtless a contributor, the part of Cade being among his contributions we find him making Cade declare Act iv. Sc. 7 “Men shall hold of me in capite; and we charge and command that wives be as free as heart can wish or tongue can tell. Both the phrases that we have Italicized express tenures, and very uncommon tenures of land. In the Comedy of Errors, when Dromio of Syracuse says “There’s no time for a man to recover his hair that grows bald by nature,” his master replies, “May he not do it by fine and recovery? ”
Fine and recovery was a process by which, through a fictitious suit, a transfer was made of the title in an entailed estate. In Love’s Labor’s Lost, almost without a doubt the first comedy that Shakespeare wrote, on Boyet’s offering to kiss Maria, Act ii. Sc. 1 she declines the salute, and says, “My lips are no common, though several they be. This passageÃ¢â‚¬â€?an important one for his purposeÃ¢â‚¬â€?Lord Campbell has passed by, as he has some others of nearly equal consequence. Maria’s allusion is plainly to tenancy in common by several i. e. , divided, distinct title. See Coke upon Littleton, Lib. iii. Cap. iv. See. 292. She means, that her lips are several as being two, and as she says in the next line as belonging in common to her fortunes and herselfÃ¢â‚¬â€?yet they were no common pasture. Here, then, is Shakespeare using the technical language of conveyancers in his earliest works, and before he had had much opportunity to haunt the courts of law in London, even could he have made such legal acquirements in those schools.
We find, too, that he uses law-terms in general with frequency notably greaterÃ¢â‚¬â€?in an excess of three or four to oneÃ¢â‚¬â€?than any of the other playwrights of his day, when so many playwrights were or had been Noverints or of the Inns of Court; that this excess is not observable with regard to his use of the vocabulary peculiar to any other occupation or profession, even that of the actor, which we know that he practised for many years but that, on the contrary, although he uses other technical language correctly, he avails himself of that of any single art or occupation with great rarity, and only upon special occasions. Lord Campbell remarks, as to the correctness with which Shakespeare uses legal phrasesÃ¢â‚¬â€? and this is a point upon which his Lordship speaks with authorityÃ¢â‚¬â€?that he is amazed “by the accuracy and propriety with which they are introduced,” and in another place adds that Shakespeare “uniformly lays down good law”; and it is not necessary to be a Chief Justice of the Queen’s Bench to know that his Lordship is fully justified in assuring us that “there is nothing so dangerous as for one not of the craft to tamper with our free-masonry.
Remembering, then, that genius, though it reveals general and even particular truths, and facilitates all acquirement, does not impart facts or the knowledge of technical terms, in what manner can we answer or set aside the question that we have partly stated beforeÃ¢â‚¬â€?How did it happen that in an age when it was a common practice for young attorneys and barristers to leave their profession and take to writing plays and poems, one playwright left upon his works a stronger, clearer, sharper legal stamp than we can detect upon those of any other, and that he used the very peculiar and, to a layman, incomprehensible language of the law of real property, as it then existed, in his very earliest plays, written soon after he, a raw, rustic youth, bred in a retired village, arrived in London? How did it happen that this playwright ell into the use of that technical phraseology, the proper employment of which, more than any other, demands special training, and that he availed himself of it with apparent unconsciousness, not only so much oftener than all of his contemporaries, but with such exact knowledge, that one who has passed a long life in the professional employment of it, speaking as it were officially from the eminent position which he has wonÃ¢â‚¬â€?Lord CampbellÃ¢â‚¬â€?declares that, “While novelists and dramatists are constantly making mistakes as to the law of marriage, of wills, and of inheritance, to Shakespeare’s law, lavishly as he propounds it, there can neither be demurrer, nor bill of exceptions, nor writ of error”?
Must we believe, that the man, who, among all the lawyer-playwrights of his day, showedÃ¢â‚¬â€?not, be it noticed as we are at present regarding his works the profoundest knowledge of the great principles of law and equity, although he did that tooÃ¢â‚¬â€?but the most complete mastery of the technical phrases, the jargon, of the law and of its most abstruse branchÃ¢â‚¬â€?that relating to real estateÃ¢â‚¬â€?and who used it very much the oftenest of them all, and with an air of as entire unconsciousness as if it were a part of the language of his daily life, making no mistakes that can be detected by a learned professional criticÃ¢â‚¬â€?must we believe that this man was distinguished among those play-writing lawyers, not only by his genius, but his lack of particular acquaintance with the law?
Or shall we rather believe that the son of the High Bailiff of Stratford, whose father was well-to-do in the world, and who was a somewhat clever lad and ambitious withal, was allowed to commence his studies for a profession for which his cleverness fitted him and by which he might reasonably hope to rise at least to moderate wealth and distinction, and that he continued these studies until his father’s loss of property, aided, perhaps, by some of those acts of youthful indiscretion which clever lads as well as dull ones sometimes will commit, threw him upon his own resourcesÃ¢â‚¬â€?and that then, having townsmen, perhaps fellow-students and playfellows, among the actors in London, and having used his pen, as we may be sure he had, for other purposes than engrossing and drawing precedents, he, like so many others of his time, left his trade of Noverint and went up to the metropolis to busy himself with endeavors of art? One of these conclusions is in the face of reason, probability, and fact; the other in accordance with them all. But of how little real importance is it to establish the bare fact, that Shakespeare was an attorney’s cleric before he was an actor! Suppose it proved, beyond a doubtÃ¢â‚¬â€?what have we learned?
Nothing peculiar to Shakespeare; but merely what was equally true of thousands of other young men, his contemporaries, and hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of those of antecedent and succeeding generations. It has a naked material relation to the other fact, that he uses legal phrases oftener than any other dramatist or poet; but with his plastic power over those grotesque and rugged modes of speech it has nought to do whatever. That was his inborn mastery. Legal phrases did nothing for him; but he much for them. Chance cast their uncouth forms around him, and the golden overflow from the furnace of his glowing thought fell upon them, glorifying and enshielding them forever. It would have been the same with the lumber of any other craft; it was the same with that of many othersÃ¢â‚¬â€?the difference being only of quantity, and not of kind.
How, then, would the certainty that he had been bred to the law help us to the knowledge of Shakespeare’s lifeÃ¢â‚¬â€?of what he did for himself, thought for himself, how he joyed, how he suffered, what he was? Would it help us to know what the Stratford boys thought of him and felt toward him who was to write Lear and Hamlet, or how the men of London rewarded him who was a-writing them? Not a whit. To prove the fact would merely satisfy sheer aimless, fruitless curiosity; and it is a source of some reasonable satisfaction to know that the very people who would be most interested in the perusal of a biography of Shakespeare made up of the relation of such facts are they who have least right to know anything about him.
Of the hundreds of thousands of people who giggled through their senseless hour at the American CousinÃ¢â‚¬â€?a play which in language, in action, in character, presents no semblance to human life or human creatures, as they are found on any spot under the canopy, and which seems to have been written on the model of the Interlude of Pyramus and Thisbe, “for, in all the play, there is not one word apt, one player fitted”Ã¢â‚¬â€?of the people to whom this play owed its monstrous success, and who, for that very reason, it is safe to say, think Shakespeare a bore on the stage and off it, a goodly number would eagerly buy and read a book that told them when he went to bed and what he had for breakfast, and would pay a ready five-cent piece for a picture of him, as he appeared in the attorney’s office, to preserve as a companion to the equally veritable “portrait of the Hon.
Daniel E. Sickles, as he appeared in prison. Nay, it must be confessed that there are some Shakespearean enthusiasts ever dabbling and gabbling about what they call Shakespeariana, who would give more for the pen with which he engrossed a deed or wrote Hamlet, than for the ability to understand better than they do or ever can, what he meant by that mysterious tragedy. Biography has its charms and its uses; but it is not by what we know of their bare external facts that Lives of great men all remind us We can make our lives sublime, And departing leave behind us Footprints on the sands, of time. What the readers of Shakespeare, who are worthy to know aught of him long to know, would have been the same, had he been bred lawyer, physician, soldier, or sailor. It is of his real life, not of its mere accidents, that they crave a knowledge; and of that life, it is to be feared, they will remain forever ignorant, unless he himself has written it.