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 UNCRITICAL as are the arguments alike of Lord Campbell and the Baconians about the legal learning of Shakespeare, they are not more so than those put forth to the same effect by Mr. Grant White, a Shakespearean scholar and a hearty contemner of the entire Baconian theory. From him Mr. Greenwood is able to cite the allegation that
legal phrases flow from his (Shakespeare’s) pen as part of his vocabulary, and parcel of his thought. Take the word "purchase," for instance, which in ordinary use means to acquire by giving value, but applies in law to all legal modes of obtaining property except by inheritance or descent, and in this peculiar sense the word occurs five times in Shakespeare’s thirty-four plays, and only in one single instance in the fifty-four plays of Beaumont and Fletcher.*
This passage, which follows Lord Campbell’s lead, forms part of a longer one in which the infirmity of Mr. White’s handling of the problem lies on the surface.
Malone [he writes], noticing the frequency with which Shakespeare uses law terms, conjectured that he had passed some of his adolescent years in an attorney’s office. In support of his conjecture, Malone, himself a barrister, cited twenty-four passages distinguished by the presence of law phrases; and to these he might have added many more. But the use of such phrases is by no means peculiar to Shakespeare. The writings of the poets and playwrights of his period, Spenser, Drayton, Greene, Beaumont and Fletcher, Middleton, Donne, and many  others of less note, are thickly sprinkled with them. In fact the application of legal language to the ordinary affairs of life was more common two hundred and fifty years ago than it is now; though even nowadays the usage is far from uncommon in the rural districts. There law shares with agriculture the function of Providing those Phrases of common conversation which, used figuratively at first, and often with Poetic feeling, Pass into mere thought-saving formulas of speech.
Having thus reached a point of view from which his own theory is manifestly open to suspicion, since the first purpose of drama must be to be "understanded of the people," Mr. White nevertheless proceeds to offer "reasons for believing that Shakespeare had more than a layman’s knowledge of the law." Yet the sole "reason" suggested is the merest begging of the question. Needy young lawyers in the Elizabethan period, we are told; turned to play-writing as they now do to journalism; "and of those who had been successful in their dramatic efforts how inevitable it was that many would give themselves up to play-writing, and that thus the language of the plays of that time should show a remarkable infusion of law phrases." That is to say, we, expect to find lawyer-dramatists filling their plays with law. Then comes the logical somersault:
To what, then, must we attribute the fact that of all the plays that have survived of those written between 1580 and 1620 Shakespeare’s are most noteworthy in this respect? For no dramatist of the time, not even Beaumont, who was a younger son of a, judge of the Common Pleas, and who, after studying in the Inns of Court, abandoned law for the drama, used legal phrases with Shakespeare’s readiness and exactness.
Shakespeare, that is to say, is more given to legalisms than are the lawyer dramatists, and must therefore have been much more of a lawyer than they! Shakespeare; accordingly, is likely to have had not the mere superficial training of a lawyer’s clerk; the probability is that he
was allowed to commence his studies for a profession for which his cleverness fitted him—and that he continued those studies until his father’s misfortunes, aided, perhaps, by some of those  acts of youthful indiscretion which clever lads as well as dull ones will sometimes commit, threw him upon his own resources; and that then , law failing to supply his pressing need, he turned to the stage, In which he had townsmen and friends.
Thus a new hypothesis, outgoing all tradition, and resting on no shred of direct testimony, is superimposed on a dubious tradition, by way of supporting an unproved assumption. For Mr. White does not make one attempt to reach a true quantitative or qualitative estimate of the legal element in Shakespeare and his contemporaries by way of detailed comparison. He makes the blank affirmation, and merely follows it up with the before-cited passage about purchase, and by a further non-comparative recital of legal terms from the Shakespearean lays in rebuttal of the view that the whole vocabulary may have been acquired by haunting the law courts.
Those terms his use of which is most remarkable . . . are not such as he would have heard at ordinary proceedings at nisi prius, but such as refer to the tenure or transfer of real property— "fine and recovery," "statutes marchant," "purchase," "indenture," "tenure," "double voucher," "fee simple," "fee farm," "remainder," "reversion," "forfeiture," &c. This conveyancer’s jargon could not have been picked up by hanging round the courts of law in London two hundred and fifty years ago, when suits as to the title to real property were comparatively rare. And besides, Shakespeare uses his law just as freely in his early plays, written in his first London years, as in those produced at a later period.
It is necessary to show in some detail that we have here, once more, merely a forensic "bluff"; and it is hardly possible to begin the demonstration without a word of protest against the hand-to-mouth fashion in which a critic who was most unsparing in his denunciation of other men’s laxities and inadequacies went about a task which obviously called for the most exact critical procedure. He has been so heedless as to assign to Shakespeare the common phrase "statutes marchant," which is not to be found in any of the plays or poems,  while he cites eight terms which are to be found by the hundred in Elizabethan drama. But his lack of caution becomes still more clear when we examine the first-cited illustration, upon which he most relies—that which turns upon the word "purchase." In point of fact the words "purchase," "purchased," "purchaseth," and "purchasing" occur in all some fifty times in Shakespeare’s plays, and twice in Lucrece, and they have their primary force—which Mr. White fallaciously reduces to a "legal" one—far oftener than five times, else Shakespeare would indeed have been peculiar among his contemporaries in giving the word its secondary and modern force. By the definition "legal modes of obtaining property" the critic merely obscures the fact that the term covered all modes of acquisition save inheritance. There was no more a "legal" sense of the term "purchase" than there was or is of the term "property" or "obtain": the law simply discriminated, on legal lines, between right and wrong modes of "purchase." To pick out cases in the plays in which "purchase" means lawful acquisition is thus pure mystification: any lawyer, even, might say "lawful purchase" by way of expressly distinguishing between lawful and unlawful purchase, as he might say "stolen property" on occasion. As Mr. White does not specify his five cases, and Mr. Greenwood, quoting Mr. White as he quotes Lord Campbell, makes no scrutiny of the assertion; I will simply clear the matter up by citing many instances of the use of the quasi-"legal" use of the word in other writers and dramatists, noting that it is frequently applied in the sense of "booty" or plunder. To begin with, Mr. White is merely mystifying us in his assertion that the "legal" sense of "purchase" occurs only once in Beaumont and Fletcher’s fifty-four dramas. In its original and general sense, which is the "legal," it occurs twice in one of their plays:
—these being the only instances of the word; in any application, in the play in question. And it occurs repeatedly in others by the same authors:
Morecraft. I purchased,
wrung, and wire-drawed for my wealth, lost, and was cozened.
(Here the meaning is "got by stratagems"—within the limits of the law.)
Again, these two last are the only instances of the word "purchase" in the play cited.
A partial collation of Beaumont and Fletcher’s large mass of work yields the following additional instances:
You make me more a slave still to your goodness,
[Can] his arms rust in ease
I hear some noise: it may be new purchase [=booty].
Here, you dull slaves: purchase, purchase! the soul
of the rock, diamonds, sparkling diamonds!
Why, what remains but new nets for [=to effect] the
Let not this body . . . now be purchase
Can any but a chastity serve Caesar,
I need no company to that, that children
To purchase fair revenge.
What have I got by this now? what’s the purchase?
My holy health . . . to purchase which . . .
I have purchased to myself, besides mine own undoing,
the ill opinion of my friends.
This sessions, purchased at your suit, Don Henrique,
Grant he purchase
The philological fact is that the sense of "acquisition," "a thing got," is the fundamental meaning of the word "purchase," of which the starting-point is the idea of the chase (Fr. pourchasser), the product of hunting or foraging. It is the idea of buying that is secondary, though that has now become the normal force of the word. That is to say, the so-called "legal" meaning of "acquisition of property by one’s personal action as distinct from inheritance" is the original meaning, and is the likely sense of the word in the whole feudal period. The meaning of "buy" is merely an evolution from that, buying being a common way of obtaining, a mode of "purchase." The  fact that "purchase" still means "hold"—as in "get a purchase on a rope"—shows the primary meaning subsisting on one line of extension while it has ceased on another. But down to the age of Shakespeare the original and quasi-legal sense was normal. To begin with, that use of the word in ordinary literature is established as early as Chaucer. Professor Skeat there assigns to the verb the meanings "to procure or acquire, to win, to buy, to promote, to contrive, to provide;" and to the noun the meanings "proceeds, gifts acquired, gain;" with the further sense of "conveyancing" in the form "purchasing."** In the Canterbury Tales we have:
Yet again, in another place, we have:
In Troilus and Criseyde also (iv, 557) we have:
—in the sense of "obtain." And again in the Prologue we have a secondary use (318-20):
That is, he (the Sergeant), was a great conveyancer, whose conveyancing could not be impugned. In The Persone’s Tale, in the phrase "for to purchasen many earthly things" (sent. 742), and in the Tale of Melibeus (§ 55), in the phrase "they that loven and purchasen  peace," the meaning is clearly the primary one.
* Memoirs of William Shakespeare in 1866 ed. of Shakespeare's Works, I, pp. xlv. Repr. later. back
** Prol. to Cant. Tales, 1. 320. Other scholars (see Glossary of Globe ed.) assign the meanings "prosecuting" and "prosecutor" in the case of the description of the Man of Lawe. Skeat's seems the correct view. In the Frere's Tale, 1449, however, purchasing means acquiring. back
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