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“ I am deni’d to sue my livery here
And yet my letters-patent give me leave;
It would be difficult to improve upon the language of Mark Antony when he declared that if the commons but heard the will of Cæsar they would
"beg a hair of him for memory,
All's Well That Ends Well furnishes a fair illustration of an impatient cross-examiner dismissing a smart witness :
“Thou art too fine in thy evidence:
Therefore stand aside."
Although he may have been on fairly intimate terms with the frequenters of the Inns of Court we will search in vain throughout the plays for a single comment complimentary to the profession of the law or in acknowledgment of the useful service rendered by the profession in the administration of justice. If I were to admit a single exception to this sweeping statement it would be from the speech of Tranio in the Taming of the Shrew,-
“Do as adversaries do in law
This might, however, be considered an obiter dictum and not very complimentary at its best, when taken with the context.
But the unkindest cut of all is from the second part of King IIenry VI. Jack Cade was picturing in glowing terms the Eutopian era he was about to introduce, when all would dress in one livery and agree like brothers. Dick the butcher was heart and soul with Jack in his worthy enterprise and promptly announced his views as to the first step necessary towards the attainment of that desired end,
“ The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers."
The only lawyer designated as such appearing in any of the plays is an anonymous one taking a very indifferent part in Act. II., Scene IV., of the first part of King Henry VI. This scene, by the way, is laid in the Temple Gardens. He has very little to say and that of so little consequence that his omission from the play would not have detracted from its merits.
I do not know but that the Justice of the Peace has greater cause for complaint. 'Tis true it was a madman said,
Which is the justice, which the thief ?”
but such words have a sting in them, no matter by whom they are uttered.
When Falstaff had used Shallow to his heart's content in selecting his company of scarecrows, he did not hesitate in one of his soliloquies to give us his opinion of him with his characteristic frankness.
“I do see the bottom of Justice Shallow Lord, Lord, how subject we old men are to the vice of lying. This same starved justice hath done nothing but prate to me of the wildness of his youth, and the feats he hath done about Turnbull Street: and every third word
The constable did not fare much better at the hands of Shakespeare than the Justice of the Peace. In Dogberry we have a most incongruous combination of conceit and assininity, but we are disposed to overlook his failings for having left us that delightful expression comparisons are odorous.”
In the misuse of words he is excelled only by his counterpart, Elbow, in Measure for Measure.
Why should Shakespeare hold up to ridicule these officers of the law and withhold his compliments from the lawyers? There seems to be very good authority for believing that Shallow is a caricature of Sir Thomas Lucy, whom he never forgave for prosecuting him for poaching at Charlecote, and he must have had a constable of the Dogberry type to carry out his orders. But why should he not find something good to say about the lawyers? It was not owing to a general tendency to be cynical, for no one could be more complimentary than he when the occasion called for it.
It was not by mere chance that Shakespeare did not find occasion to hold up some member of the legal profession for our admirat on. Was he a victim of the popular belief that seems to have prevailed more or less in every age that lawyers are a sort of necessary evil that we tolerate, but would be glad to be rid of, if we felt that it would
be safe to do so? Perhaps he had in mind some disagreeable experience of his own when he caused Alcibiades to say,—
“ It pleases time, and fortune, to lie heavy
We might comfort ourselves with the reflection,“No might nor greatness in mortality
Can censure 'scape.” (.Measure for Measure, III., ?, 197.)
Not even the judges were exempt from rather serious charges, as appears from the following from Measure for Measure:
“ Thieves for their robbing have authority when judges steal
The judges, in extenuation, might have replied in the words of Speed:
“ It is an honorable kind of thievery.”
Shakespeare fully recognized the evils flowing from the neglect to enforce the laws and has most beautifully summed up his views in Measure for Measure,
“We have strict statutes, and most biting law,
(The needful bits and curbs to headstrong steeds)
Even Falstaff was moved to give utterance to the same thought when he spoke of,
The rusty curb of old father antic the law."
We almost invariably find a plea put forward by him for some degree of mercy towards the transgressor, and in this respect he was several generations ahead of his age; for Portia's appeal for mercy would in most courts have fallen upon ears as deaf as those of Shylock. Sentences in his time were severe and promptly executed, so he was striking at a serious evil through Portia’s famous deliverance :
“ The quality of mercy is not strained,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven,
It was the rich and winsome heiress of Belmont that gave utterance to the words, but the spirit of Shakespeare is breathing through the entire speech. We find the same sentiment in Titus Andronicus,
“Sweet mercy is nobility's true badge."
Isabella, in Measure for Measure, pursues the theme in almost the self-same words as Portia,
Well, believe this,
But he, like you, would not have been so stern.” Shakespeare has given us several trial scenes, and the one that most readily comes to our minds is from the Merchant of Venice. If that scene were seriously put forward as his conception of a fair trial in a court of justice, then I fear his reputation for depicting real scenes from life would greatly suffer. An eminent English jurist once remarked that he would have granted Shylock a new trial at once if an appeal had been made to him. We are so intent in following the fortunes of Antonio that we are disposed to applaud the unseemly interruptions of Gratiano which would have called forth a rebuke from any well constituted court. The author has sacrificed the dignity of the court to the dramatic effect he desired to produce. The pronouncement of Portia, as Shylock is about to exact his penalty, is the merest sophistry; yet there are few of us who have not at times been disposed to join with Gratiano in his jeering sarcasm,
A second Daniel, a Daniel Jew;"
The acknowledgment of such a disposition upon our part is the highest compliment we can pay the poet. We have been so overcome by his art that we are ready to place a laurel wreath upon the brow of the “learned doctor” and join the rabble in pelting stones at poor old Shylock.
Of an entirely different character is the impeachment of Othello before the Senate. Brabantio's charge rests alone upon circumstantial evidence that it was “ against all rules of nature” that Desdemona should “fall in love with what she fear'd to look on.” The jury is composed of his peers from whom the accused can look for little sympathy. There is no air of defiance as we might have expected from a man accustomed to “ feats of broil and battle” and “little blest with the soft phrase of speech.” He delivers “a round unvarnished tale” before his "very noble and approved good masters." It is free from artifice or exaggeration; but so skilfully does he play upon the finer feelings of his auditors, laying bare his own heart, that they forget the repulsive outer man and the dangerous consequences likely to flow from such an unnatural match and see only the natural workings of the inner soul of a maiden,
“Never bold; Of spirit so still and quiet that her motion Blushed at herself."
yet the very one above all others to fall in love with him for the dangers he had passed. That is the keynote of the relation between them, fully understood and appreciated by the poet, but never suspected by Brabantio, being himself “deficient, blind and lame of sense.”
The jury lawyer might profit well by studying in every detail this address of Othello and thereby learn the lesson that the simple narrative and heart-to-heart talk is more convincing in the end than the wild gesticulation and loud declamation that we frequently witness at our jury trials.
In Act II., Scene IV., of Henry VIII. we have one of the most gorgeous scenes ever put upon the stage, and fully in keeping with the exalted position of the chief actors in it. There is the solemn procession headed by the vergers followed by the ecclesiastical dignitaries with all their insignia, and lastly the royal suitors and their trains. It was a bold attempt to gloss over the conspiracy to foist upon the Queen a prejudiced tribunal. Although the proceedings were frustrated by Katherine rightfully challenging Wolsey to act as her judge; yet we get the full benefit of the dazzling splendour of a royal