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In Shakespeare's dramas founded upon English history, more legalisms might have been expected; but I have met with fewer than in those which are taken from the annals of foreign nations, or which, without depending on locality, “hold the mirror up to nature.” This paucity of reference to law or to law proceedings may, perhaps, in part be accounted for by the fact that, in these “Histories," as they were called, our great dramatist is known to have worked upon foundations already laid by other men who had no technical know
introduced additions and improvements into stock pieces to revive their popularity. Yet we find in several of the “Histories,” Shakespeare's fondness for law terms; and it is still remarkable, that whenever he indulges this propensity he uniformly lays down good law.
Thus in the controversy, in the opening scene of *KING John,' between Robert and Philip Faulconbridge, as to which of them was to be considered the true heir of the deceased Sir Robert, the King, in giving judgment, lays down the law of legitimacy most perspicuously and soundly,thus addressing Robert, the plaintiff :
“ Sirrah, your brother is legitimate ;
Your father's wife did after wedlock bear him ;
This is the true doctrine, “ Pater est quem nuptive demonstrant.”.
It was likewise properly ruled that the father's will, in favour of his son Robert, had no power to dispossess the right heir. Philip might have recovered the land, if he had not preferred the offer made to him by his grandmother, Elinor, the Queen Dowager, of taking the name of Plantagenet, and being dubbed Sir Richard.
In Act II. Sc. 1, we encounter a metaphor which is purely legal, yet might come naturally from an attorney's clerk, who had often been an attesting witness to the execution of deeds. The Duke of Austria, having entered into an engagement to support Arthur against his unnatural uncle, till the young
prince should be put in possession of the dominions in France to which he was entitled as the true heir of the Plantagenets, and should be crowned king of England, says, kissing the boy to render the covenant more binding,
“ Upon thy cheek I lay this zealous kiss,
As seal to this indenture of my love."
In a subsequent part of this play, the true ancient doctrine of “the supremacy of the crown” is laid down with great spirit and force; and Shakespeare clearly shows that, whatever his opinion might have been on speculative dogmas in controversy between the Reformers and the Romanists, he spurned the ultramontane pretensions of the Pope, which some of our Roman Catholic fellow subjects are now too much disposed to countenance, although they were stoutly resisted before the Reformation by our ancestors, who were good Catholics. King John declares, Act 111. Sc. 1,
" No Italian priest
King Philip. Brother of England, you blaspheme in this.
King John. Though you and all the kings of Christendom
At the same time, it is clear, from Shakespeare's portraiture of Friar Lawrence and other Roman Catholic ecclesiastics, who do honour to their church, that he was no bigot, and that he regarded with veneration all who seek to imitate the meek example of the divine founder of the Christian religion.
In Act 111. Sc. 1, we have the partition of England and Wales between Mortimer, Glendower, and Hotspur, and the business is conducted in as clerk-like, attorneylike fashion, as if it had been the partition of a manor between joint tenants, tenants in common, or coparceners.
Glend. Come, here's the map: shall we divide our right,
Mort. The archdeacon hath divided it
It may well be imagined, that in composing this speech Shakespeare was recollecting how he had seen a deed of partition tripartite drawn and executed in his master's office at Stratford.
Afterwards, in the same scene, he represents that the unlearned Hotspur, who had such an antipathy to “metre ballad-mongers ” and “mincing poetry,” fully understood this conveyancing proceeding, and makes him ask impatiently,
“ Are the indentures drawn? shall we be gone ?”
Shakespeare may have been taught that “livery of seisin ” was not necessary to a deed of partition, or he