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Strong and fasten’d villain !

All ports I'll bar; the villain shall not ’scape.

Besides, his picture
I will send far and near, that all the kingdom
May have due note of him ;t and of my land,
Loyal and natural boy, I'll work the means
To make thee capable.

In forensic discussions respecting legitimacy, the question is put, whether the individual whose status is to be determined is “capable,” i.e. capable of inheriting; but it is only a lawyer who would express the idea of legitimising a natural son by simply saying

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Again, in Act III. Sc. 5, we find Edmund trying to incense the Duke of Cornwall against his father for having taken part with Lear when so cruelly treated by Goneril and Regan. The two daughters had become the reigning sovereigns, to whom Edmund professed to owe allegiance. Cornwall having created Edmund Earl of Gloster says to him

† One would suppose that photography, by which this mode of catching criminals is now practised, had been invented in the reign of King Lear.

“Seek out where thy father is, that he may be ready for our apprehension.”

On which Edmund observes aside

“If I find him comforting the King, it will stuff his suspicion more fully."

Upon this Dr. Johnson has the following note :“He uses the word [comforting] in the juridical sense, for supporting, helping.”

The indictment against an accessary after the fact, for treason, charges that the accessary “comforted” the principal traitor after knowledge of the treason.

In Act III. Sc. 6 the imaginary trial of the two unnatural daughters is conducted in a manner showing a perfect familiarity with criminal procedure.

Lear places the two Judges on the bench, viz., Mad Tom and the Fool. He properly addresses the former as “the robed man of justice," but, although both were “ of the commission,” I do not quite understand why the latter is called his "yokefellow of equity,” unless this might be supposed to be a special commission, like that which sat on Mary, Queen of Scots, including Lord Chancellor Audley.

Lear causes Goneril to be arraigned first, and then proceeds as a witness to give evidence against her, to prove an overt act of high treason :

“I here take my oath before this honourable assembly, she kicked the poor king, her father.”

But the trial could not be carried on with perfect regularity on account of Lear's madness, and, without waiting for a verdict, he himself sentences Regan to be anatomized :

" Then, let them anatomize Regan ; see what breeds about her heart."


In this tragedy various expressions and allusions crop out, showing the substratum of law in the author's mind, -2.g., the description of the disputed territory which was the cause of the war between Norway and Poland :

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. (Act iv. Sc. 4.)

Earlier in the play (Act 1. Sc. 1) Marcellus inquires what was the cause of the warlike preparations in Denmark

And why such daily cast of brazen cannon,
And foreign mart for implements of war ?
Why such impress of shipwrights, whose sore task
Does not divide the Sunday from the week ?

Such confidence has there been in Shakespeare's accuracy, that this passage has been quoted, both by text writers and by Judges on the bench, as an authority upon the legality of the press-gang, and upon the debated question whether shipwrights, as well as common seamen, are liable to be pressed into the service of the royal navy.*

Hamlet, when mortally wounded in Act v. Sc. 2, represents that Death comes to him in the shape of a sheriff's officer, as it were to take him into custody under a capias ad satisfaciendum :

“ Had I but time (as this fell serjeant, Death,

Is strict in his arrest), Oh! I could tell you,” &c.

The Grave-diggers’ scene, however, is the mine which produces the richest legal ore. The discussion as to whether Ophelia was entitled to Christian burial proves that Shakespeare had read and studied Plowden's Report of the celebrated case of Hales v. Petit, tried in the reign of Philip and Mary, and that he intended to

* See Barrington on the Ancient Statutes, p. 300.

ridicule the counsel who argued and the Judges who decided it.

On the accession of Mary Tudor, Sir James Hales, a puisne Judge of the Common Pleas, was prosecuted for being concerned in the plot which placed the Lady Jane Grey for a few days upon the throne ; but, as he had previously expressed a strong opinion that the succession of the right heir ought not to be disturbed, he was pardoned and released from prison. Nevertheless, so frightened was he by the proceedings taken against him that he went out of his mind, and, after attempting suicide by a penknife, he drowned himself by walking into a river. Upon an inquisition before the Coroner, a verdict of felo de se was returned. Under this finding his body was to be buried in a cross-road, with a stake thrust through it, and all his goods were forfeited to the crown. It so happened that at the time of his death he was possessed of a lease for years of a large estate in the county of Kent, granted by the Archbishop of Canterbury jointly to him and his wife, the Lady Margaret, who survived him. Upon the supposition that this lease was forfeited, the estate was given by the crown to one Cyriac Petit, who took possession of it,—and Dame Margaret Hales, the widow, brought this action against him to recover it. The only question was whether the forfeiture could be considered as having taken place in the lifetime of Sir James Hales; for, if not, the plaintiff certainly took the estate by survivorship.

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