Home / Ever Reader 10 / Shakespeare’s Bad Law

Shakespeare’s Bad Law

by Mark Andre Alexander

This article was first published in the Winter 2000 Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter.

In Shakespeare, IN FACT (1994), Irvin Leigh Matus attempts to dispose of any notions that Shakespeare had a formal legal education and used legal terms accurately:

The question of his legal knowledge has been most recently [sic] tackled by O. Hood Phillips, a jurist, legal scholar and educator, in Shakespeare and the Lawyers. In the chapter, “Did Shakespeare have a Legal Training?” he gathered and summarized the varying opinions that have been handed down. The most reliable assessment of the playwright’s knowledge of law, in his opinion, is that of P. S. Clarkson and C. T. Warren, whose reading of Elizabethan drama revealed that about half of Shakespeare’s fellows employed on the average more legalisms than he did, and some of them a great many more. Most of them also exceed Shakespeare in the detail and complexity of their legal problems and allusions, and with few exceptions display a degree of accuracy at least no lower than his.

Clarkson and Warren’s verdict is that Shakespeare’s references “must be explained on some grounds other than that he was a lawyer, or an apprentice, or a student of the law.” (272)

Though he advances an implied argument that Shakespeare is guilty of “bad law,” Mr. Matus fails to give examples, merely relying on the authority of Mr. Phillips. Indeed, that authority is secondhand since Mr. Phillips only presents the authority of Messrs. Clarkson and Warren and quotes none of their examples (159-161, 191).

More recently, in The Elizabethan Review (Autumn 1997, Vol. 5, No. 2), the co-editor of the Internet’s “Shakespeare Authorship Page,” David Kathman, Ph.D., claims that, “Paul Clarkson and Clyde Warren, in an exhaustive study of legalisms in the work of seventeen Elizabethan playwrights (The Law of Property in Shakespeare and Elizabethan Drama), found that Shakespeare was average at best in the number and accuracy of his legal allusions.” (22) The concept of “average accuracy” is found nowhere in the source text, indicating that Dr. Kathman has not closely read either Shakespeare & the Lawyers or The Law of Property in Shakespeare. 1

Before we examine some examples of Shakespeare’s “inaccuracies” in The Law of Property in Shakespeare — a text that in many other respects is excellent — let’s first take a closer look at the history of the arguments.

The Early Debaters

Those relying solely on Matus would remain unaware of the nearly 150-year history of arguments over Shakespeare’s legal knowledge in over 35 books and numerous articles. The 19th century saw a Golden Age of books supporting the proposition that Shakespeare possessed an extensive and unerring knowledge of the law.

Although the first mention was made by lawyer and Shakespeare editor Edmund Malone in 1778 2, it was not until 1858-1859 that the idea began to take hold with the publication of two books: William Rushton’s Shakespeare a Lawyer, and Lord Chief Justice John Campbell’s Shakespeare’s Legal Acquirements Considered. 3

These two works were followed by several others, one listing 312 examples of Shakespeare’s use of legal terms. Lord Campbell, by far the most influential, gives his unequivocal opinion of Shakespeare’s use of legal terms:

I am amazed, not only by their number, but by the accuracy and propriety with which they are uniformly introduced. 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. (132-4)

In The Law in Shakespeare Senator Cushman K. Davis explores how

…this legal learning is accurately sustained in many passages with cumulative and progressive application. The word employed becomes suggestive of other words, or of a legal principle, and these are at once used so fully that their powers are exhausted. (16)

Such sweeping declarations invite opposing arguments and examples. The first such major salvo was launched in 1899 by William C. Devecmon in his IN RE Shakespeare’s “Legal Acquirements”: Notes by an Unbeliever Therein. 4 Thus began a 21-year debate over Shakespeare’s legal knowledge, one proposition being, “Shakespeare made mistakes using legal terms.”

The major debaters were Devecmon: Pro–J. M. Robertson: Pro, in Did Shakespeare Write Titus Andronicus? (1905) and The Baconian Heresy (1913)–Arthur Underhill: Pro, in the essay “Law” in Shakespeare’s England (1916)–and Sir George Greenwood: Con, in The Shakespeare Problem Restated (1908), Is There a Shakespeare Problem? (1916), Shake-speare’s Law and Latin (1916), and Shakespeare’s Law (1920).

Greenwood was the most reasoned and methodical of those debaters favoring Shakespeare’s legal knowledge. Among a sea of Baconians, he stood apart not only as a critic of the orthodox authorship attribution, but also as an agnostic who patiently awaited a reasonable alternative. When Looney published Shakespeare Identified, he found the case for Oxford persuasive. 5

After this 21-year debate, a nine-year gap ensued until Sir Dunbar Plunket Barton came out with Links Between Shakespeare and the Law (1929). Barton came down on the side of Greenwood:

Some critics have gone to the opposite extreme, and have dwelt upon what they call ‘the bad law’ in the plays of Shakespeare. He, like other dramatists, probably cared very little whether the law was strictly accurate, so long as it helped the plot or the dialogue. Sir George Greenwood, with whom the present writer does not always agree, has disposed of this subject in a recent book.(149)

There is then a 13-year gap until the 1942 publication of Clarkson and Warren’s The Law of Property in Shakespeare, in which once again the idea is raised that Shakespeare erred in such a way that excludes the possibility of his having legal training. But let us return now to the beginnings of this debate and William Devecmon.

Greenwood on Devecmon

In 1899, Devecmon attacked both Lord Campbell and Senator Davis. J.M. Robertson later supported these attacks. Greenwood spent much space in his books refuting both Robertson and Devecmon (and lesser critics), but as Robertson follows Devecmon, offering no “errors” of his own, Greenwood’s refutations of Devecmon will suffice. Devecmon listed 13 examples6 of Shakespeare’s “gross errors” in using legal terms. Four of these reveal Devecmon’s literal-mindedness. He claims that “Well ratified” and “replication” in Hamlet (I.i.90 and IV.ii.11), “challenge” in Henry VIII (II.iv.75), and “indenture” in Pericles (I.iii.8) are all misused.

But the OED — unavailable to Devecmon — reveals that each term had a history of figurative and alternate usage that fits the passages cited. Of those remaining, Greenwood refutes five (four in The Shakespeare Problem Restated and one in Shakespeare’s Law).

These five refutations by Greenwood are:7

1) “Demise” Richard III (IV.iv.247-8):

Eliz. Tell me what state, what dignity, what honor
Canst thou demise to any child of mine?

Devecmon simply states that dignities and honors cannot be demised and cites Comyn’s Digest in support. Greenwood quotes Comyn’s Digest, which states that “a dignity or nobility cannot be aliened or transferred to another.”

“Not a very unreasonable proposition!” says Greenwood. He then continues,

If the king grants a title or ‘dignity’ to a subject, it is natural enough that the grantee should not have the power to assign it away to another (perhaps for a round sum down), or to put it up to auction. Therefore the Queen is right, prima facie at any rate, when she suggests to Richard that he has no power to ‘demise’ any dignity or honour to a child of hers. Where is the legal error here? But there is this further observation to be made. It was possible for Richard to ‘demise’ such dignities or honours, inasmuch as he was king, and even a subject could make a grant of such things ‘with the king’s licence.’ (Comyn’s Dig., ad loc.) Therefore the error is entirely on the side of Mr. Devecmon. (Restated 399-400)

2) “Common/Several.” Love’s Labour’s Lost (II.i.221-223)

Boyet. So you grant pasture for me.

Kath. Not so, gentle beast;
My lips no common are, though several they be.

Devecmon admits that “Shakespeare doubtless knew that one cannot at the same time hold a thing in common and in severalty, and if so, he here sacrifices his knowledge for a mere play on words, which I fancy a professional pride, if he had had any legal training, would not have permitted him to do.” Greenwood relies on a note of William Hazlitt’s to Sir John Oldcastle (I.iii.1) to explain the usage, but Clarkson and Warren do a better job while criticizing Devecmon for being so over-literal. (Sh. Law 88)

3) “Statutes.” Love’s Labour’s Lost (I.i.15-19):

King. You three, Berowne, Dumain, and Longaville,
Have sworn for three years’ term to live with me,
My fellow-scholars, and to keep those statutes
That are recorded in this schedule here:
Your oaths are pass’d; and now
subscribe your names

Devecmon thinks “statutes” is misused here to mean merely “articles of agreement,” since there is no such meaning in law. According to Greenwood, Shakespeare uses “statutes” in the sense of “ordinances,” as is usual in a college. (Restated 404) In this one case, Mr. Robertson explicitly agrees with Greenwood (The Baconian Heresy 175n). But amazingly, though he claims that Greenwood’s refutations hold no weight, Robertson hides behind vague generalities and fails to explicitly refute even a single one.

4) “Testament.” Henry V (I.i.9-11):

Cant. For all the temporal lands, which men devout
By testament have given to the church,
Would they strip from us.

Devecmon claims that “testament” is used incorrectly since it bequeaths personal property. A “will” is used for devising real estate. Greenwood responds:

‘How absolute the knave is! We must speak by the card!’ Must the Archbishop speak by the card too, or the writer be set down as no lawyer? But really this is but another example in support of the proposition that a little learning is a dangerous thing. ‘A testament is the true declaration of our last Will; of that wee would to be done after our death,’ says the learned author of that famous old book Termes de la Ley. A ‘testament’ includes a ‘will,’ said the Court in Fuller v. Hooper (2 Vesey Senior 242). Nay, more, Littleton, the great and learned Littleton, uses ‘testament’ as applicable to a devise of lands and tenements; and all Coke has to say about it is that ‘in law most commonly “ultima voluntas in scriptis” is used where lands or tenements are devised, testamentum when it concerneth chattels.’ But we know that ‘testator’ is used of a man who has made a will, whether it be of lands or of personal property. So that again Mr. Devecmon’s attempt fails. (Restated 402)

5) “Single bond.” Merchant of Venice (I.iii.140-6):

Shy. Go with me to a notary; seal me there
Your single bond, and in a merry sport
If you replay me not on such a day,
In such a place, such a sum as are
Expressed in the condition, let the for feit
Be nominated for an equal pound
Of your fair flesh

Devecmon says, “It is hardly conceivable that any lawyer, or anyone who had spent considerable time in a lawyer’s office, in Shakespeare’s age, could have been guilty of the egregious error of calling a bond with a collateral condition a ‘single bond.'”

In Shakespeare’s Law Greenwood quotes both the Encyclopaedia of the Laws of England and Stephens Commentaries to point out that single bonds include those where people are bound to pay at a certain time and place with a penalty attached in the event of failure to pay. Payment of a pound of flesh is the “penalty” and not a “condition.”(24-26)

In other words, Devecmon sees that Shakespeare has used the words “Expressed in the condition” and wants to immediately translate that as a conditional bond in the legal sense. It is not. The bond is properly defined as a single bond. Once again, the error lies with Devecmon.

Literal-minded vs. literary

Now let’s examine four more “Devecmon errors” that Greenwood did not address in his books, but which are quite similar to those five he did address, having in common the one error that Devecmon himself makes over and over–he simply cannot conceive of the “literary” use of legal terms.

1) “Moiety.” 1 Henry IV (III.i.66-9,

Glend. Come, here’s the map; shall we divide our right?
According to our threefold order ta’en?

Mort. The archdeacon hath divided it
Into three limites very equally.

Hot. Methinks my moiety, north from Burton here,
In quantity equals not one of yours.

Devecmon points out that “moiety” means a half, not a third. However, he fails to point out that Shakespeare does use it correctly both legally and figuratively in All’s Well That Ends Well (III.ii.66), The Winter’s Tale (III.ii.39), Henry V (V.ii.212), Richard III (I.ii.254; and II.2.60), Henry VIII (I.ii.12), Antony and Cleopatra (V.i.19), and Cymbeline (I.iv.105).

In several other plays he uses the term figuratively to mean simply “a portion” rather than “a half.” But it may be objected that in the case of Hotspur, the strict legal usage is called for. A close reading reveals that in fact Hotspur uses the term correctly. Devecmon and other critics want to yoke Hotpsur’s “moiety” reference to the tripartite division mentioned over 20 lines earlier.

In fact Hotspur is speaking, not of his third, as compared to the other two men, but a smaller section of his third, which he is comparing to a smaller section belonging to Mortimer only. If Hotspur were comparing his third to the two other men’s, he would be speaking of the whole compared to the whole of theirs. He does not. His land borders Mortimer’s, and the argument center’s around a portion “north from Burton.” Shakespeare uses the legal term correctly.

2) “Jointress.” Hamlet (I.ii.8-9):

Claud. Therefore our sometime sister, now our queen,
The imperial jointress to this warlike State.

Devecmon cites Co. Litt. 46 to define jointress as “a woman who has an estate settled on her by her husband.” Referencing Blake’s Commentaries he states that a “jointure” was used for barring dower, and that “Gertrude could have neither a dower nor a jointure in Denmark.” But it takes little imagination to recognize that Shakespeare is using the term in a royal context that enlarges its meaning (a common Shake-spearean practice, which is responsible for giving us our flexible language). The two have just married, and Shakespeare plays on the idea of that royal joining.

The context also suggests irony, in that such a marriage should bar the King’s brother from the “dower” of the kingdom. Devecmon fails once again to look at the literary context, assuming that every use that appears to deviate from strict legal usage represents an error that no one trained in the law would commit. As we shall see, Clarkson and Warren criticize Devecmon for over-literalizing this speech.

3) “On the case.” The Comedy of Errors (IV.ii.41-2):

Adr. Why, man, what is the matter?

Dro. S. I do not know the matter: he is ‘rested on the case.

Devecmon points out that there are two kinds of civil actions: those growing out of breach of contract and those for the recovery of wrongs independent of a contract. “On the case” applies to the former, but the statement here applies to the latter. However, Devecmon neglects to notice that this is a comedy with comedic characters who will, like Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing, mix their legal terms. Dromio is mixing up the usage.

4) “Entail.” 3 Henry VI (I.i.200-3):

King H. I here entail
The crown to thee, and to thine heirs forever;
Conditionally that thou here take an oath
To cease this civil war

Devecmon quotes Senator Davis:

The use of the word ‘entail’ here seems to be inaccurate, for, though the use of the word ‘heirs’ is necessary to create a fee, so the word ‘body’ or some other words of procreation are necessary to make it a fee tail. A gift to a man and his heirs, male or female, is an estate in fee simple and not in fee tail.

Greenwood avoids this one also, believing that this play was not Shakespeare’s. Once again, we have an instance where the literal-minded lawyer assumes that only the strict legal definition was in common usage. A quick check of the OED reveals that both Davis and Devecmon err. According to the OED “entail” was used apart from its strict legal usage: “2. transf. and fig. To bestow or confer as if by entail; to cause to descend to a designated series of possessors; to bestow as an inalienable possession.”

Thus, in 1513 Sir Thomas More in Edward V writes, “The Crowne of the Realme [was] entayled to the Duke of Yorke and his Heires.” (OED) Perhaps Shakespeare was following Sir Thomas in this usage of appointing an hereditary possessor, but Shakespeare uses “entail” in its stricter legal usage in All’s Well That Ends Well (IV.iii.270), showing that he understood both definitions precisely.

Arthur Underhill’s “Bad Law”

Let us now turn our attention to another of the early debunkers of Shakespeare’s knowledge of the law. In Shakespeare’s England: An Account of the Life & Manners of his Age (1916)8, Arthur Underhill lets the reader know exactly where he stands by opening the section on “The Law” with the statement,

Despite Shakespeare’s frequent use of legal phrases and allusions his knowledge of law was neither profound nor accurate. (I.381)

In a paper presented at the 20th Annual Conference of the Shakespeare Oxford Society (Minneapolis, 1996), entitled “Recent Developments in the Case for Oxford as Shakespeare,” Peter Moore deftly refutes the three instances where Underhill accuses Shakespeare of using legal terms incorrectly.9

Two of these are easily refuted: Underhill’s resurrection of Devecmon’s claim that in Love’s Labour’s Lost Shakespeare incorrectly uses “common” and “several,” (discussed earlier in this article), and his criticism of Hamlet’s graveyard remarks on buying land in Hamlet (V.i.101-110), where he dashes off almost a dozen legal terms, including “statutes and recognizances.”

Moore accurately points out that “any annotated, university-level edition of Hamlet, such as Arden, Oxford, or Cambridge, will explain exactly what statutes and recognizances had to do with buying land.”

Underhill’s third error is quite interesting. Turning to All’s Well That Ends Well he accomplishes what can only be described as an intentional misrepresentation.

First, Underhill states that “the King of France insists upon his highborn ward Bertram marrying Helena, a poor physician’s daughter, who was of inferior rank to him.” He then quotes a passage (II.iii.52-3) where the King has Helena choose a husband. Underhill then informs us that “when Bertram, whom Helena chooses, protests,” the King informs him peremptorily that

It is in us to plant thine honour where
We please to have it grow. Check thy contempt:
Obey our will, which travails in thy good.

Underhill skips over 100 lines to quote this passage (II.iii.156-8). He then quotes a passage from Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair, which he says alludes “to the condition that the spouse must be of equal rank with the ward, which Shakespeare has ignored.”

Yet, between the two passages that Underhill quotes, is this (II.iii.112-21):

Ber. But follows it, my lord, to bring me down
Must answer for your raising? I know her well:
She had her breeding at my father’s charge–
A poor physician’s daughter my wife! Disdain
Rather corrupt me ever!

King. ‘Tis only title thou disdain’st in her, the which
I can build up. Strange it is that our bloods,
Of colour, weight, and heat, pour’d all together,
Would quite confound distinction, yet stands off
In differences so mighty.

Bertram directly addresses the unequalness in rank between him and Helena. The King responds that he can raise her in rank, and then proceeds to reflect on how strange it is that people can in every other respect be the same, yet so different in rank.

In Peter Moore’s words, “Shakespeare was perfectly well aware of the requirement.” And Underhill knew that Shakespeare knew. One must wonder if Underhill has been intentionally deceptive.

Clarkson and Warren’s “Bad Law”

Now, we should finally turn to Clarkson and Warren’s 1942 book The Law of Property in Shakespeare and the Elizabethan Drama, yet another oft-quoted (see Irv Matus’s Shakespeare IN FACT) debunking of Shakespeare’s knowledge of the law that comes up short upon closer analysis.

The authors labored long and hard to cross-catalog all of the legal references to property law used by 17 Elizabethan playwrights. They claim that the others “with few exceptions display a degree of accuracy at least no lower than his.” (285)

This statement, of course, could be construed to mean that Shakespeare had 100% accuracy. Using the index, a researcher is hard-pressed to discover Shakespeare’s alleged inaccuracies. But under Devecmon’s name there are two listings–with three actual mentions in the text–all criticizing Devecmon for erring in his criticism of Shakespeare. Two of these have already been examined as part of Devecmon’s 13 “gross errors.”

The first is Devecmon’s criticism of Claudius’s use of “jointress.” The authors quote Middleton’s, “That’s my Soul’s jointure” in No Wit, No Help Like a Woman’s (I.ii.23), and then say, “One can only wonder what inaccuracies Devecmon would have found in this metaphorical usage.” (84)

The second is Devecmon’s criticism of Boyet and Katherine’s “common” and “several.” The authors’ comparative research shows both words are commonly used to refer, “not to the right of pasture but to the place where the right is exercised.” (86) Thus, they conclude that Devecmon’s criticism is not valid. (88-9)

The third is Devecmon’s criticism of “a deed of gift” in The Merchant of Venice (V.i.292):10

It has been pointed out that such an instrument would be quite inoperative to transfer after-acquired property; only that which was in esse at the time the deed was delivered would pass. This observation, however, seems largely beside the point because this deed was not intended at the time of delivery to pass even the property which was in esse. (183)

The authors also criticize Charles Allen for erroneously pointing out errors in Shakespeare’s use of legal terms in his 1900 book Notes on the Bacon-Shakespeare Question (219, 224, 246). They even use Greenwood’s Shakespeare’s Law, referenced in a single footnote (246), as a counter to one of Allen’s claims.11

The Law of Property in Shakespeare appears to contain only three examples of Shakespeare’s inaccurate use of legal terms. First, the authors repeat Devecmon’s discovery of a “technical error” in Shakespeare’s use of “entail” in 3 Henry VI. (59) They repeat Devecmon’s mistake in assuming that the term has only a technical usage. Second, they cite the Host in The Merry Wives of Windsor (II.i.206-7) for misusing “egress” and “regress.” (70) There is little point in belaboring the obvious–that to quote such a character in such a play as an example of Shakespeare’s error is beyond highly questionable.

Clarkson and Warren’s third error is different, and may actually promise to be a significant discovery. They begin their second chapter of Part III by setting the stage for a discussion of the use of the term “heir,” particularly in “heir apparent” and “heir presumptive,” noting that there is an important distinction between the two (197-9).

The heir apparent’s succession was contingent only upon his outliving his ancestor, such as an eldest son. This is the only circumstance that could deprive him of his inheritance. Thus, the heir apparent is in the direct line of succession. The heir presumptive, on the other hand, would be like a brother to a King, one whose succession could be displaced by the birth of a child to the King.

Thus, Clarkson and Warren reveal Shakespeare’s error:

Shakespeare uses the phrase ‘heir apparent’ incorrectly when Cardinal Beaufort says of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester [2 Henry VI (I.i.150-1)],

Consider, lords, he is the next of blood
And heir apparent to the English crown.

Gloucester was not Henry VI’s eldest son, of course, but his uncle, and therefore heir presumptive. Shakespeare did not adopt this language from Holinshed, and did not have here the excuse of metric requirements, since either word fits the iambic pentameter equally well. We have here just another example of Shakespeare’s being interested not so much in correctly stating a legal proposition, as in putting into the mouth of his character words which to the laymen-groundling sounded like good law, and at any rate conveyed the desired information. This is, of course, the essence of good theatre. (199)

If this is an error, it indeed qualifies as one that a man trained in law would not commit. Clarkson and Warren then proceed to give examples of contemporary playwrights who display a knowledge of the distinction–and these examples present a problem: they contain only the concept of the distinction, not the use of the phrase “heir presumptive.”

A quick check of a concordance reveals that Shakespeare never used “heir presumptive” or even “presumptive.” A quick check of the OED reveals that the first public use of “presumptive” occurs in 1609, and that “heir presumptive” is not used until 1628. Could this mean that the term was not in use during Shakespeare’s time? Yes! Under the third listing under “presumptive” the OED provides this example:

1683 Brit. Spec. 272. Apparent (or according to the new-coyned Distinction, Presumptive) Heir of the Crown is His Royal Highness James[etc.].

In other words, “heir presumptive” was regarded as a newly-coined term in the late 17th century, and that “heir apparent” was commonly used for both distinctions!

Once again, the critics of Shakespeare’s law are themselves proven to be the ones in error. As to Shakespeare’s use of legal terms, it can still be truly said, over 140 years later, that “there can neither be demurrer nor bill of exceptions, nor writ of error.”


In 1899, William Devecmon wrote,

Though the frequent use of legal terms, with their proper technical meanings, has a cumulative effect, and tends strongly to prove a legal training; yet a very few errors in such use, if glaring and gross, would absolutely nullify that effect and proof. (33)

In other words, according to Devecmon, if it can be shown that Shakespeare continually uses legal terms aptly and free of error, then that fact strongly proves he had legal training.

This essay, I believe, provides proof that no critic of Shakespeare’s “bad law” has yet given even a single valid example. In every case where a critic provides an example it can be shown that it is the critic, and not Shakespeare, who errs. This, then–to use Devecmon’s own words–is strong proof of Shakespeare’s legal training.

In the end, when someone claims, without giving examples–as do Dr. Kathman, Mr. Matus, and Mr. Phillips–that Shakespeare used legal terms inaccurately, one must demand specifics. And when someone gives such specific examples–as do Devecmon, Underhill, and Messrs. Clarkson and Warren–one must examine them closely.

Lord Campbell and Sir George Greenwood were right. Shakespeare uses legal terms accurately. To date, his critics have a history of profound ignorance, error, and, in the case of Underhill, possible deception.


  1. Kathman is plainly wrong in claiming that Clarkson and Warren’s book is “an exhaustive study of legalisms.” The book’s title confines the scope to “The Law of Property,” and the authors admit the need to narrow the scope: “Long ago we realized that the subject of the law in the drama was so broad that it had best be treated in installments. References will be noted throughout this book to later treatises on the law pertaining to Equity, Marriage and Divorce, Criminal Law, etc.” (xxvi) In almost 60 years, the authors have yet to deliver the promised installments. Mr. Phillips actually points much of this out in Shakespeare & the Lawyers.
  2. Edmond Malone, “Essay on the Chronological Order of Shakespeare’s Plays,” in a footnote to Hamlet. Two years later in his “Prolegomena” to The Life of William Shakespeare, he states that Shakespeare’s “knowledge and application of legal terms, seems to me not merely such as might have been acquired by casual observation of his all-comprehending mind; it has the appearance of technical skill; and he is so fond of displaying it on all occasions, that there is, I think, some ground for supposing that he was early initiated in at least the forms of law.” (II, 107-9)
  3. Rushton claims in Shakespeare’s Testamentary Language that Lord Campbell relied more on his research than on his own readings.
  4. Published by The Shakespeare Society of New York (No. 12). One minor criticism was made in 1863 by R. F. Fuller, “Shakespeare as a Lawyer,” (Upper Canada Law Journal, p. 95). Also, Edward James Castle alleges some legal errors in his 1897 Shakespeare, Bacon, Jonson & Greene, but Devecmon himself states that “I have failed to discover a single instance given by him of any real blunder in the use of legal terms.” (30)
  5. Sir George Greenwood and J. Thomas Looney founded the Shakespeare Fellowship in Hackney on November 6, 1922. Greenwood was elected President, and Looney one of several Vice-Presidents. Col. B. R. Ward was elected Hon. Secretary and Treasurer. The Fellowship was not confined to Oxfordians, although it was founded as a direct result of Looney’s book. Looney drew many of the criteria of his search from Greenwood’s books. (See The Shakespeare Authorship Review, No. 8, Autumn 1962.)
  6. Actually 14. I postpone discussion of this last example until my discussion of Clarkson and Warren’s “Bad Law.”
  7. All citations are from The Arden Shakespeare.
  8. Although Shakespeare’s England was published in 1916, Underhill only shows knowledge of the some of the arguments through 1900. He lists only Campbell, Davis, and Allen in his bibliography, and neglects to mention Devecmon. Perhaps the essay was already out of date when it was published.
  9. Moore’s paper is available here.
  10. This is Devecmon’s 14th example of Shakespeare’s bad law.
  11. Phillips also holds up Allen as an authority of Shakespeare’s “bad law,” but he cites only one example (135) and that only to shoot it down with a reference to Greenwood! This use of Greenwood as a supporting authority is strangely typical of almost every critic of Shakespeare’s law and of every Oxfordian critic, including Schoenbaum in Shakespeare’s Lives, and Matus.
Stay Informed
Join our FREE Email list to get the latest news on the Shakespeare authorship controversy
No Thanks
Thanks for signing up. You must confirm your email address before we can send you. Please check your email and follow the instructions.
We respect your privacy. Your information is safe and will never be shared.
Don't miss out. Subscribe today.