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kitchen-wench (III. ii. 95); the gossips' feast (V. i. 406); Pentecost (IV. i. 1); and the Priory or Abbey (the names with Shakespeare are synonymous) in Act v.-beyond doubt the Priory of Holywell, near which Shakespeare lived and worked. "The melancholy vale, the place of death and sorry execution" (V. i. 120) may stand for Wapping, the usual place of execution for pirates and rovers at low water mark. The intense interest felt in London in the fortunes of Henry of Navarre has already been referred to.
But perhaps the most extraordinary of these references to contemporary London life and manners are the wellknown allusions to English law and procedure, particularly in the fourth act of the play.
The much-debated question of the extent and significance of Shakespeare's knowledge of law as exhibited in his plays and poems is too extensive to be fully dealt with in this place; especially as it is hoped to deal exhaustively with the question elsewhere. With this question is involved certain points about Shakespeare's biography, notably the manner in which his life was spent during the latter years of his residence or presumed residence at Stratford, as well as those immediately succeeding his arrival in London and the commencement of his great career as actor and dramatist.
Malone, himself a barrister, in his edition of 1790 was probably the first to moot the theory that part of Shakespeare's youth was spent in an attorney's office. He observes that Shakespeare's "knowledge of legal terms is not merely such as might be acquired by the casual observation of even his all-comprehending mind; it has the appearance
of technical skill; and he is so fond of displaying it on all occasions, that I suspect he was early initiated in at least the forms of law, and was employed, while he yet remained at Stratford, in the office of some country attorney, who was at the same time a petty conveyancer, and perhaps also the seneschal of some manor court." "The technical language of the law," says Grant White, "runs from his pen as part of his vocabulary and parcel of his thought" "genius, though it reveals general and particular truths, and facilitates all acquirement, does not impart facts or the knowledge of technical terms." These quotations may stand as most fitly expressing the views of the many authorities who suppose that Shakespeare must have had some kind of legal training. On the other hand certain opponents of the hypothesis suggest that Shakespeare after he came to London may have attended the courts and frequented the society of lawyers; or that owing to his father having been engaged in legal transactions the son may have gleaned the knowledge of legal technicalities which he stored in his memory and afterwards reproduced in his plays and poems. But the whole internal evidence of the plays, and especially of the poems, is dead against this latter theory, not so much the weight of each individual reference as the weight of the accumulated mass which shows the law to have been "part and parcel" of his intellectual equipment. One of the most astonishing features of the case is the fact that there are not far from 150 legal references in the poems and sonnets alone; ie., within the compass of about 5000 lines of verse. Not to speak of the extreme improbability of Shakespeare having any spare time to devote to the
technicalities of the law when in London and actively engaged as actor and dramatist, a careful and minute study of the whole works leads us irresistibly to the conclusion that Shakespeare's mind must have been early steeped in the minutiæ of practical and technical legal work. To adopt
one of his own phrases in The Errors, his legal knowledge was "in grain." There are no mere legal patches on his literary gown. The apprentice to the law carried about with him through life a vivid remembrance of his early apprenticeship. As Coleridge pithily remarked, an author's observations of life would be drawn from the immediate employments of his youth and from the character and images most deeply impressed on his mind, and the situation in which these employments had placed him.
The particular legal expressions or references in The Errors may now be roughly analysed as follows:
(1) References to the law of property and conveyanc
II. i. 41. This fool-begg'd patience in thee will be left.
II. ii. 29. And make a common of my serious hours.
11. ii. 71-75. There's no time for a man to recover his hair. May he not do it by fine and recovery? and recover the lost hair of another man.
III. i. 12. That you beat me at the mart, I have your hand to show.
III. i. 13. If the skin were parchment, and the blows you gave were ink.
v. i. 106. It is a branch and parcel of mine oath.
(2) References to legal procedure:
I. i. 142-45. Now, trust me, were it not against our laws,
Against my crown, my oath, my dignity,
Which princes, would they, may not disannul,
My soul should sue as advocate for thee.
III. i. 105, 106. For slander lives upon succession,
For ever hous'd where it gets possession.
IV. i. 6. I'll attach you by this officer.
ii. 32-50; 32. No, he 's in Tartar limbo, worse than hell.
36. A fellow all in buff.
40. One that, before the Judgement, carries poor souls to hell.
42. He is 'rested on the case.
43. Tell me at whose suit.
49. Was he arrested on a band?
56. If an hour meet a sergeant.
61. And a sergeant in the way.
Why, 'tis a plain case.
IV. iii. 23.
IV. iii. 25.
Gives them a bob, and 'rests them.
v. i. 100. And will have no attorney but myself.
(3) General references:
1. i. 9. Have seal'd his rigorous statutes with their bloods.
v. i. 126. Against the laws and statutes of this town.
IV. ii. 58. Time is a very bankrupt.
v. i. 270. Why what an intricate impeach is this?
The Errors, it is true, does not contain any large number of legal references, nothing like so many as the poems, sonnets, and some of the other plays, but these references are quite numerous enough to show the colouring which Shakespeare's mind had previously imbibed, and which he has evinced in this play, written as it must have been about 1591-2, and therefore not long, about five years in fact, after he came to London. He might of course have attained to this intimate technical knowledge in the intervening period : all I can say to that is to repeat my belief that actively engaged as he must have been in his "bread and butter" pursuits of acting, recasting old plays, writing new ones and as
sisting his "fellows " in theatrical management, it would have been nothing short of a miracle if he had, at the same time, sought to make an express study of the law. And to what
Scenes ii, and iii. of Act IV. are particularly noticeable as showing Shakespeare's intimate acquaintance with the principles of special pleading and "arrest on mesne process," as it was called; not to mention the social aspect of his evident familiarity with some of the manners and customs of old London. It is not to be assumed that such knowledge was limited to Shakespeare alone among the dramatists: many of them from John Lyly onwards use even special and technical legal terms with exactness and propriety. What I do repeat is that, as is instanced in the case of this, one of the earliest, if not the very earliest of his comedies, the total cumulative effect of the numerous legal references in the poems and plays leads irresistibly to the conclusion that the technical language of the law is an ingrained and ineradicable part of his vocabulary and his thought, and could only have been acquired in the way of regular study as an apprentice to the law.
In conclusion, it may be remarked that in The Errors the well-known "unities" of action, time and place seem to be rigidly adhered to; and the play is "all compact" on the true classical model; but, in my opinion, this end was attained by Shakespeare, not of any set purpose or deliberate intention, but rather by his simply following the nature and scope of the subject-matter as set forth in the old Plautine play.