« AnteriorContinuar »
not evidence which would be sufficient in a court of law, but quite enough for those who are satisfied with the concurrence of probability and tradition; and I confess that I am of that number.
From 1584, when Shakespeare's twin children— Hamnet and Judith — were baptized, until 1592, when we know that he was rising rapidly to distinction as a playwright in London, no record of his life has been discovered ; nor has tradition contributed anything of importance to fill the gap, except the story of the deer-stealing and its consequences. What was he doing in all those eight years ? and what before the former date? For he was not born to wealth and privilege, and so could not, like the future Bishop of Bristol and Worcester, spend all his time in stealing deer and wooing girls. Malone, noticing the frequency with which he uses law terms, conjectured that he had passed some of his adolescent years in an attorney's office. In support of his conjecture, Malone, himself a barrister, cited twenty-four passages distinguished by the presence of law phrases; and to these he might have added many more. But the use of such phrases is by no means peculiar to Shakespeare. The writings of the poets and playwrights of this period, Spenser, Drayton, Greene, Beaumont and Fletcher, Middleton, Donne, and many others of less note,
are thickly sprinkled with them.* In fact, the application of legal language to the ordinary affairs of life was more common two hundred and fifty years ago than it is now; though even nowa-days the usage is much more general in the
* There are two passages in Shakespeare's works which are so remarkable for the freedom with which law phrases are scattered through them, that it is worth while to give them here. The first is the well-known speech in the grave-digging scene of Hamlet :
“Hamlet. — 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?"-Act V. Sc. I.
The second is the following Sonnet (No. XLVI.), 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
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
A quest of thoughts, all tenants to the Heart,
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 that he is not peculiar even in this crowding of many law-terms into one brief passage, take this evidence from The Miseries of Enforced Marriage, a poor play written by George Wilkins, an obscure contemporary playwright:
“Doctor. Now, Sir, from this your oath and bond,
“ Scarborow. What then ensues to me?
“ Doctor. A heavy doom, whose execution's Now served upon your conscience,” &c.
D. O. P., Vol. III. p. 91, ed. 1825.
which in large cities are mostly drawn from trade and politics.*
There are reasons, however, for believing that Shakespeare had more than a layman's knowledge of the technical language of the law. The familiarity with that language manifested by other playwrights and poets of his day precludes us, indeed, from accepting the mere occurrence of law phrases in his works as indications of a distinctive professional training. On the other hand, we have direct contemporary evidence that many dramatic authors of the Elizabethan period (1575 - 1625) were bred attorneys or barristers. Thomas Nash, a playwright, poet, and novelist, whose works were in vogue just before Shakespeare wrote, in an “ Epis
* And yet Lord Chief Justice Campbell could cite these lines from the exquisite song in Measure for Measure as among the evidences of Shakespeare's legal acquirements :
my kisses bring again
Seals of love, but sealed in vain.” 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.” Surely a man must be both a Lord Chancellor and a Shakespearian 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.
tle to the Gentleman 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:
“ 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 candle-light, yields many good sentences, as, Blood is a beggar, &c.; and if you intreat him fair in a frosty morning, he will afford you whole Hamlets, — I should say, handfuls of tragical speeches. But, oh, grief! Tempus edax rerum, what is that will last always ? The sea, exhaled by drops, will, in 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, chiefly, it would seem, if not only, because of the phrase, "whole Hamlets, — I should say, handfuls of tragical speeches," — which has been looked upon as an allusion to Shakespeare's great tragedy. 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 dramatic version of the Danish story upon which Shakespeare built his Hamlet. But on the contrary, it seems clear that Nash's object