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Table of Contents
Essay Glossary of Legal Terms and Related Words
Legal and Property Records of the Shakespeare Family Shakespeare's Will Works Cited
The Bard Was Grounded in Legal Knowledge
By Michael J. Cummings...© 2019
The line numbers of Shakespeare quotations in this essay and in the glossary after it follow those in the The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, edited by W. J. Craig.
William Shakespeare was well versed in the law. In fact, says Cushman K. Davis, his “persistent and correct use of law terms [prompted] the conjecture that he must have studied in an attorney’s office” (3). Richard Grant White observes, “No dramatist of the time, not even Beaumont [playwright Francis Beaumont, 1584-1616], who was a younger son of a judge of the Common Pleas . . . used legal phrases with Shakespeare’s readiness and exactness. . . . Legal phrases flow from his pen as part of his vocabulary, and parcel of his thought” (qtd. in Reed 231). Edmond Malone, who was an attorney and an esteemed Shakespeare scholar, writes, "His knowledge and application of legal terms seems to me not merely such as might be acquired by the casual observation of even his all-comprehending mind; [they have] 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" (108-109). In Shakespeare's Law, Sir Granville George Greenwood writes,
In the year 1859, Lord Campbell, who in that year became Lord Chancellor [of England], having previously (in 1850) been Lord Chief Justice of the Queen's Bench, published a book in the form of a letter to Mr. Payne Collier, entitled Shakespeare's Legal Acquirements, in which he contended that Shakespeare had "a deep technical knowledge of the law," and an easy familiarity with "some of the most abstruse proceedings in English jurisprudence." With regard to the poet's "judicial phrases and forensic allusions" he writes: "I am amazed, not only by their number, but by the accuracy and propriety with which they are uniformly introduced." (13)Clarence Marion Brune, however, rejects such glowing praise of Shakespeare as a legal wiz. He points out, for example, that Shakespeare's famous explanation in Henry V of the complicated Salic Law—often cited as demonstrative of Shakespeare's lawyerly knowledge—was actually a paraphrase of a passage in the second edition of Raphael Holinshed's The Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland, published in 1587 (Shakespeare's Use of Legal Terms 36-45). Shakespeare frequently used that edition of The Chronicles as a source in writing his history plays, as well as Cymbeline, King Lear, Macbeth, The Winter's Tale, and The Tempest. Brune also says in Shakespeare's Use of Legal Terms that the bard misused or misspelled legal terms such as distrain (47-48), chattel (37), dower (49-50), and letters patent (47-48). Let's examine Brune's criticism.
Salic Law: Shakespeare did paraphrase a passage in The Chronicles in explaining the Salic Law. So what? Dramatists and other writers must paraphrase historians from time to time; they cannot pluck the facts of history from thin air. If Shakespeare was guilty of an offense here, so were other celebrated playwrights and poets of his own time, including Edmund Spenser (circa 1552-1599), Samuel Daniel (1562-1619), Michael Drayton (1563-1631), and Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593). They also used The Chronicles as a source.In his book In Re Shakespeare's Legal Acquirements, Attorney William C. Devecmon also maintains that Shakespeare misused legal terms, although he concedes that the bard's legal terminology was correct most of the time. Among the terms Devecmon singles out as misused are demise (33), indenture (36), and moiety (36-37).
demise: Used as a verb, demise means (1) to transfer an estate by will, descent, or lease and (2) to transfer the sovereignty of a monarch by will, descent, or abdication. In Richard III, Queen Elizabeth sarcastically asks Richard, "Tell me what state, what dignity, what honor / Canst thou demise to any child of mine?" (3.3.254-255). Devecmon says, "Dignities and honors could not be conveyed by demise" (33). He cites as his source Sir John Comyns (1667-1740), a judge, member of Parliament, and author of A Digest of the Laws of England. But is it not obvious that Shakespeare was using the term figuratively here, as if dignity and honor were tangibles that could be transferred to another person? Note, too, that poetic license grants the right to balance the repetition in line 254 ("what state, what dignity, what honor") with the assonance in line 255 (demise, child, mine).What about Cushman K. Davis's view that Shakespeare may have studied under an attorney? Brune casts doubt on that possibility, noting that most of Shakespeare's references to lawyers present them as less than praiseworthy. Brune says: "It is unusual for a professional man of any calling to have as low an opinion of his profession as Shakespeare seems to have had of the profession of the law . . . and this should come as a rude shock to those advocates of the theory that Shakespeare was bred to the legal profession" (10). Brune cites the following passage as an example of Shakespeare's negative opinion of lawyers: "I have neither the scholar's melancholy, which is emulation; nor the musician's, which is fantastical; nor the courtier's, which is proud; nor the soldier's which is ambitious; nor the lawyer's, which is politic" (As You Like It, 4.1.9). He also cites these passages (11-12):
All scholars, lawyers, courtiers, gentlemen,Brune makes a valid point. It would indeed have been unusual if Shakespeare had ridiculed his own profession. Besides, no one has ever discovered evidence—except for legal terms and issues in his plays—that Shakespeare did study under an attorney or anyone else associated with the law. There are no letters, deeds, writs, or other documents that he signed as a lawyer.
However, Shakespeare did not have to undertake a formal study of the law to learn its most frequently used technical terms or to gain an understanding of the often-complicated proceedings of the courts. One can fairly speculate that he learned a goodly passel of legal knowledge through his activities as a playwright, businessman, property owner, and participant in, or observer of, lawsuits. He also likely kept his ears wide open during conversations with lawyer friends while eating and drinking in London taverns, including the Boar's Head in Eastcheap and the Mermaid in Cheapside. It is well-known that such taverns were the haunts of writers and lawyers in Shakespeare's day. Some of the writers were lawyers or aspiring lawyers; some of the lawyers were writers or aspiring writers. Among the topics of discussion in these taverns, Devecmon says in quoting Thomas Dekker's Gulls Hornbook—published in 1609—were "statutes, bonds, recognizances, audits, subsidies, rents, sureties, enclosures, liveries, indictments, outlawries, feoffments, judgments, commissions, bankrupts, amercements, and of such horrible matter." The result was that Shakespeare probably learned a vocabulary of law that he could muster when needed—criminal, civil, ecclesiastical, and international law. And the criticism of Brune notwithstanding, he was correct most of the time. To be sure, he took creative liberties with his legal and historical sources, sometimes turning dull and musty facts into wondrous tales with spellbinding language. When discussing law, a good writer of drama does not have to abandon his or her imagination.
There are hundreds of references and allusions to law in Shakespeare's plays. Legal questions and issues are important plot elements in Measure for Measure, The Merchant of Venice, Henry V, King Lear, Hamlet, King John, Richard II, the Henry VI plays (parts 1, 2, and 3), The Winter's Tale, Titus Andronicus, Romeo and Juliet, and other works.
Measure for Measure, for example, focuses on whether the government of Vienna should enforce the law with draconian rigidity or with moderation and mercy. Because prostitution and other crimes have been thriving, the duke of Vienna worries that he has been too lenient. Consequently, after announcing that he is going away for a while on government business, he gives his strict and strait-laced deputy, Angelo, temporary authority to run the government, including the power to arrest and pass judgment on lawbreakers. But the duke has no intention of leaving town. Instead he remains in Vienna, wearing a disguise so he can see whether Angelo does a better job of enforcing the law than he does. After assuming power, Angelo cracks down hard on crime, observing,
After he arrests and sentences to death a man who impregnated his wife-to-be, the play becomes a struggle between Angelo and the forces of moderation and mercy.
The Merchant of Venice climaxes in a courtroom trial in which a Jewish moneylender, Shylock, sues a Christian merchant, Antonio, for defaulting on a loan. The loan contract contains a strange provision: Antonio is to forfeit a pound of flesh near his heart if he fails to repay the loan. Shylock is happy that Antonio has defaulted on the loan, for now he will be able to gain revenge against Antonio and other Christians for making him the target of anti-Semitic taunts and insults. On at least one occasion, Antonio even spat on Shylock. When Shylock goes to court, he demands the right to excise the pound of flesh (certain death for Antonio), asserting, "I crave the law, the penalty and forfeit of my bond" (4.1.202-203). The defense attorney tries to persuade him to accept a sum of money far exceeding the amount of the loan. But Shylock stands fast on his demand.
By my soul I swearBy this time, it becomes clear that a central theme of the play is injustice: the injustice of judging people by their race or religion. Another theme is prejudice against women: Antonio's attorney is a woman disguised as a man in order to countervail the likely mockery that would be heaped on her for acting as a lawyer, a role reserved for men.
In the first act of Henry V, the king asks the archbishop of Canterbury and the bishop of Ely whether it would be morally and legally justified to attack France on grounds that the French ursurped lands and titles from King Henry's ancestors. The archbishop replies that Henry may indeed attack France, explaining that the French unfairly interpreted an ancient and complicated statute (the Salic, or Salique, Law), written in Latin, to prevent Henry from claiming what is rightfully his, the French crown.
King Lear begins when the title character, a very old monarch who decides to retire, divides his property between two of his daughters and disowns his third daughter. His decision catalyzes events that follow.
Hamlet centers in part on reactions to the murder of a king, Hamlet's father, and the title character's struggle with the moral ambiguity of revenge against the killer, Hamlet's Uncle Claudius, who has succeeded to the throne. It also deals with other legal and moral issues, one of which is Hamlet's accidental killing of Polonius, the counselor to King Claudius. Is Hamlet guilty of a crime? Another is whether Ophelia, an apparent suicide, is entitled to a Christian burial. Church law says no. Secular law says yes—if she was insane at the time that she killed herself. And what about Hamlet's pretended insanity? Was he using it as an excuse to kill Claudius with legal impunity?
King John centers on a legal dispute over who is the rightful heir to the throne of England. Other Shakespeare history plays also deal with the issue of succession, as well as whether there are lawful reasons to depose and rebel against a king . For example, in Richard II, noblemen turn against Richard after he appropriates the considerable wealth and property of Henry Bolinbroke’s father. Cheated of his inheritance, Bolingbroke (the future King Henry IV) raises an army to overthrow the king. Twenty thousand Welsh soldiers disenchanted with Richard’s rule then join Bolingbroke in defiance of the king. In response, Richard invokes the “divine right of kings,” a centuries-old belief that a monarch receives his authority directly from God. Under this belief (which some regarded as morally and legally binding on a ruler’s subjects), a king or queen could make, change, or cancel laws. Rebelling against a monarch was not only a crime but also a grave sin. When invoking his “divine right,” Richard says,
The breath of worldly men cannot deposeIn the Henry VI plays (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3), the plots follow the struggle over who is the rightful heir to the throne of England and who is the rightful heir to the throne of France. The Winter's Tale centers on false accusations: Leontes, king of Sicilia, charges his wife, Queen Hermione, with adultery, treason, and murder. Here is part of the passage in which the king levels his charges:
OFFICER: It is his highness’ pleasure that the queenIn Titus Andronicus, Shakespeare takes up a theme that he also dealt with in Hamlet—revenge. Here is a passage that centers on this theme:
Know, thou sad man, I am not Tamora;In Romeo and Juliet, the title characters—in their hurry to marry—defy two laws, one secular and one ecclesiastical. Secular law required a couple to have a license to marry. Ecclesiastical law required a "reading of the banns" in church on three successive Sundays to discover whether an impediment existed that would prohibit the marriage. One example of an impediment was that the prospective bride and groom were too closely related to marry; another was that either of them was too young to marry. In addition, Romeo and Juliet defy a long-standing tradition which had the force of law: that the parents approve of the marriage.
Shakespeare’s knowledge of legal issues and terminology has earned him the admiration of lawyers and judges. So has his brilliant wording. Daniel Kornstein has written, “All lawyers should read Shakespeare for, if nothing else, the fabled beauty and lasting power of his expression. Lawyers depend heavily on words and language; they must be sensitive to nuance and meaning” (50).
Following is a glossary of some of the legal terms and related words in Shakespeare's works.
Documentation appears in parentheses
after each quotation. Example: (Richard II,
1.1.36-37). Richard II is the name of the
play. The numbers 1.1.36-37 represent Act 1, scene
1, lines 36 and 37.
abjure: Renounce, repudiate, or retract. Example: “I here abjure / The taints and blames I laid upon myself" (Macbeth, 4.3.140-141).
accessary or accessory: Person who urges or helps another to commit a crime. The accessary may or may not be present when the crime is committed. Example: "To both their deaths thou shalt be accessary" (Richard III, 1.2.203).
accuse: In law, to charge a person with committing a crime. Example: "Please it your majesty, this is the man / That doth accuse his master of high treason" (Henry VI Part II, 1.3.167-168).
acquit: Find not guilty; release; free. Example:
Most worthy gentleman, I and my friendacquittance: Act of releasing someone from obligation or debt, used figuratively in this example: "Now must your conscience my acquittance seal" (Hamlet, 4.7.3).
adjudge: Sentence a lawbreaker; condemn. Example:
Though thou art adjudged to the deathadvocate (noun, AD voh kit): Lawyer. Example:
Now, trust me, were it not against our laws,affiance (uh FIE ince): Pledge in a contract to marry. Example: "She should this Angelo have married; was affianced to her by oath, and the nuptial appointed" (Measure for Measure, 3.1.188).
affy: (AFF ee): See affiance. Example:
Wedded be thou to the hags of hell,alien: Foreigner; person who pledges allegiance to a country other than the one in which he lives. Example:
It is enacted in the laws of Venice,allege: Assert; cite; put forward. Example:
The reasons you allege do more conduce [pertain; contribute; lead]amerce: Impose a fine; punish. Example:
I have an interest in your hate’s proceeding,appeach: Accuse in public; implicate; inform on; rat on. Example: "Now, by mine honour, by my life, my troth, / I will appeach the villain" (Richard II, 5.2.87-88).
appellant : (1) Pertaining to an appeal to a court, monarch, or some other authority; (2) person who appeals to a court, monarch, or some other authority. Examples:
(1) "Free from . . . misbegotten hate, / I come appellant to this princely presence." (Richard II, 1.1.36-37)arbitrator: Person with the legal power to decide or settle a dispute. Shakespeare uses the term figuratively in the following passage:
But now the arbitrator of despairs,argument: Statement or statements presented as proof or evidence. Example:
The king will labour still to save his life,arrest: Take an accused lawbreaker into custody. Example:
There is a purse of ducats; let her send it:arraign: (1) Summon a person to court to hear and respond to a charge against him or her; (2) accuse; charge; criticize; call to account. Examples:
Summon a session, that we may arraignarticle: Clause stipulating a condition in a written document such as a contract or treaty; condition or conditions in an oath. Examples:
Here are the articles of contracted peaceassailant: Person who attacks someone. Assailant is often used to refer to a person who commits a violent crime. Example:
I'll put myself in poor and mean attire,assassination: Murder of a widely known leader, such as a king, pope, or dictator. In Macbeth, the title character uses this word in reference to King Duncan.
If the assassinationassault: Threat or attempt to injure a person. Example: "The assault that Angelo hath made to you, fortune hath conveyed to my understanding" (Measure for Measure, 3.1.182).
attach: Arrest; apprehend. Example:
This touches me in reputation.attainder or attainture, bill of: Act of the English Parliament that punished a person accused of treason or outlawry with the cancellation of all of his civil rights and the forfeit of all of his property. The accused had no right to a fair trial in which he could present exculpatory evidence. Because of the loss of his rights and property, he could not pass on anything to persons designated as heirs. Execution was frequently the penalty for persons served with a bill of attainder. These persons were said to be "attainted." Henry VIII used bills of attainder to punish political enemies and others who incurred his wrath. Example:
Ah, Nell, forbear! thou aimest all awry;attorney: Person with the educational background in law to advise clients and represent them in legal proceedings. (See also lawyer.) Example:
The king's attorney on the contraryavouch (noun): Testimony. Example:
Before my God, I might not this believebail: Money or other security provided to gain the release of a prisoner until his or her trial.
There is a purse of ducats; let her send it:banish: Expel a person from a geographical region such a city, county, or nation by an official decree. Example: "There's no news at the court, sir, but the old news; that is, the old Duke is banished by his younger brother the new Duke" (As You Like It, 1.1.37).
bankrupt: Declared by law to be financially ruined and destitute; a financially ruined person. Example: "[Antonio is] a bankrupt, a prodigal, who dare scarce show his head on the Rialto; a beggar, that used to come so smug upon the mart" (The Merchant of Venice, 3.1.21).
banns: Proclamation in a church on three successive Sundays of an intended marriage. The purpose of the banns was to provide any member of the congregation an opportunity to object to the marriage on legal or moral grounds. For example, a person might have objected that the groom or bride was already married. Example: "If she deny to wed, I'll crave the day / When I shall ask the banns, and when be married" (The Taming of the Shrew, 2.1.175-176).
bar: Railing between the front of a courtroom and the seating area for spectators; court or courtroom. Example:
The great duke [of Buckingham]bastard: Person whose parents were not married at the time of his or her birth; illegitimate child; child born of a king's or nobleman's mistress and, as such, was not entitled to inherit property or a title. (See also legitimate, illegitimate, and primogenitive.) Example: "Ha! a bastard son of the king's?" (Henry IV Part II, 2.4.126).
bastardy: Being or begetting a bastard; having children who are bastards. (See also legitimate, illegitimate, and primogenitive.) Examples: (1) "Infer the bastardy of Edward's children" (Richard III, 3.5.79). (2) "Hang him on this tree. / And by his side his fruit of bastardy" (Titus Andronicus, 5.1.50-51).
battery: Unlawful beating or wounding of a person. Example: "I'll have an action of battery against him, if there be any law in Illyria: though I struck him first, yet it's no matter for that" (Twelfth Night, 4.1.20).
bawd: (1) Prostitute or operator of a brothel; whore (2) pimp; procurer. Examples:
She says enough; yet she's a simple bawdbequeath: Leave money, property, or anything else to someone—usually a relative—in a will. Example:
Upon his death-bed he by will bequeathedbilbo: Bar with fetters that are attached to the feet of prisoners. Example: "Methought I lay / Worse than the mutines [mutineers] in the bilboes" (Hamlet, 5.2.8).
bigamy: Crime of marrying a person while still married to another person. Shakespeare uses this term with reference to a widow, as if she were still married. Example:
A beauty-waning and distressed widow,birthright: Privilege, right, authority, title, or property that a person receives at birth; inheritance. Example:
Kneel we together;bond: Binding agreement or pledge; obligation to make a payment. Example: "Go with me to a notary, seal me there / Your single bond" (The Merchant of Venice, 1.3.128-129).
bribe: Corrupt practice of giving, or promising to give, a person—such as a public official—money, property, a position of power, or anything else in order to persuade him or her to perform an action or accept a viewpoint that benefits the giver. Example: "I never robb'd the soldiers of their pay, / Nor ever had one penny bribe from France" (Henry VI Part II, 3.1.112-113).
brothel: House of prostitution, which was an illegal enterprise in Shakespeare's time. Example: 'I saw him enter such a house of sale,' / Videlicet [Latin for namely], a brothel, or so forth"
burglary: Entering another person's premises—such as a house, office, or room in an apartment building—to commit theft or another serious crime. In the following line from Much Ado About Nothing, Dogberry, a clownish character, mislabels bribery as burglary: "Flat burglary as ever was committed" (4.2.28)
calumny: See slander.
canon: Standards or principles established to judge a person; body of moral laws of the Roman Catholic Church; any body of rules. Examples:
Thy sins are visited in this poor child;capital: Having to do with a crime punishable by death. In the Europe of Shakespeare's time, capital crimes included murder, treason, sodomy, and witchcraft.
But tell mecapite (KAP e tay): In feudal England, the condition of holding land directly from the monarch, who owned all lands in his realm. The holder of the land, called tenant-in-chief, paid money to, or performed duties for, the monarch in return for use of the land. The holder could sublet land to others and likewise receive benefits from these subordinates. Example: In Henry VI Part II, rebel leader Jack Cade, who envisions a grand life for himself, says, "The proudest peer in the realm shall not wear a head on his shoulders, unless he pay me tribute; . . . men shall hold [land] of me in capite" (4.7.69).
captive: Prisoner of war; confined person held for ransom. Example: "He hath brought many captives home to Rome / Whose ransoms did the general coffers fill" (Julius Caesar, 3.2.67-68).
chancellor, lord high: In England in early medieval times, secretary to the king. In the twelfth century, the lord high chancellor also became the highest judge in the land, next to the king, and speaker of the House of Lords. In Henry VIII, Cromwell informs Cardinal Wolsey that the king is displeased with him and has decided to replace him as lord chancellor. Here is the passage:
CROMWELL: The heaviest and the worst,chattel: Movable property, such as the furnishings in a home. Immovable property, such as land and buildings, is not chattel. Example: "Come, let's away. My love, give me thy lips. / Look to my chattels and my movables" (Henry V, 2.3.21-22).
citizen: Inhabitant of a nation who is entitled by law to its protection and to certain rights and privileges; in return, he or she pledges allegiance to the nation's government. Example:
Here is the will, and under Caesar's seal.civil: Having to do with the life and rights of private citizens; pertaining to laws governing private matters rather than criminal, political, or military matters. Example: "Civil laws are cruel" (Timon of Athens, 4.3.64).
claim: Demand for property, money, protection, service, or any other thing that the claimant believes he or she is entitled to. Example:
Tis not a petty Dukedom that I claim,combinate (KOM bin ate): Betrothed, espoused, pledged to marry. Example: "Her combinate husband [was] this well-seeming Angelo" (Measure for Measure, 3.1.188).
commit: (1) Carry out a crime; (2) send to or confine in a prison. Examples:
A fouler factcompensation: Recompense; reimbursement; amends. Example:
If I have too austerely punish'd you,complaint: Charge; accusation; statement that initiates legal action. Example:
O worthy prince, dishonour not your eyecomplice: Person who assists another in committing a crime; accomplice; person who is complicit in unlawful activity. Example: "And so to arms, victorious father, / To quell the rebels and their complices" (Henry VI Part II, 5.1.218-220).
complot: Conspiracy. Example: "I know their complot is to have my life" (Henry VI Part II, 3.1.151).
compt: (KAHMPT or KOUNT): Day of reckoning; final judgment; place where God calls souls of the dead to account. Example:
O ill-starr'd wench!concubine: In law, a woman who lives and sleeps with a man even though she is not his wife. Example: "I know I am too mean to be your queen, / And yet too good to be your concubine" (Henry VI Part III, 3.2.99-100).
condign: Deserved and appropriate. Condign is frequently used to describe a penalty. Example: "I never gave them condign punishment" (Henry VI Part II, 3.1.134).
confess: Admit guilt in wrongdoing. "He hath confessed: away with him! he's a villain and a traitor" (Henry VI Part II, 2.3.58).
confiscate: Shakespeare uses this word as an adjective after a noun to describe possessions that have been, or will be, seized by a government as a penalty for breaking a law or disobeying a command. Example:
If any Syracusian bornconscience: Faculty of the mind that enables one to tell the difference between right and wrong. In King Richard III, Oxford underscores the role of conscience in combatting the lawlessness and immorality of Richard. Oxford says, "Every man's conscience is a thousand swords / To fight against that bloody homicide" (5.2.19-20).
conspiracy: Illegal activity in which two or more persons plan to carry out a crime. Example:
Thou fond mad woman,constable: In Shakespeare's England, a police officer of low rank who could make arrests and serve warrants and writs. Example: "Call up the right master constable. We have here recovered the most dangerous piece of lechery that ever was known in the commonwealth" (Much Ado About Nothing, 3.3.64).
constable, high: In some countries in medieval Europe, the chief military officer who was also a high-ranking administrator in a royal household. Example: "My lord of Orleans, and my lord high constable, you talk of horse and armour?" (Henry V, 3.7.7).
consul: Either of two men elected in the ancient Roman Republic (509 to 27 BC) for a term of one year to the highest government office, chief magistrate. Consuls wielded enormous power in judicial, administrative, and military matters. Example: "The senate, Coriolanus, are well pleased / To make thee consul" (Coriolanus, 2.2.124-125).
conventicle: Unlawful assembly. In Henry VI Part II, Gloucester accuses Suffolk, Buckingham, York, and Queen Margaret of conspiring against him, saying,
Ay, all of you have laid your heads together;conveyance: Legal document which transfers the title of a property. In Hamlet, when gravediggers unearth the skull of a lawyer, Hamlet says, "The very conveyances of his lands will scarcely lie in this box" (5.1.40).
convict: Find a person guilty of a crime. Example: "Before I be convict [convicted] by course of law, / To threaten me with death is most unlawful" (Richard III, 1.4.157-158).
counsel: Lawyer; legal adviser. Example: "Your hand; a covenant: we will have these things set down by lawful counsel" (Cymbeline, 1.4.53).
countermand: Revoke, reverse, or cancel an order or a command. Example: "Have you no countermand for Claudio yet, / But he must die to-morrow?" (Measure for Measure, 4.2.68-69).
court: Judge or group of judges presiding during a lawsuit; the room or building in which a lawsuit is heard. Example: "A pound of that same merchant's flesh is thine: / The court awards it, and the law doth give it" (The Merchant of Venice, 4.1.299-300).
Court of King's Bench: English court established in 1234 to hear criminal cases and conduct judicial proceedings involving the Crown and the citizens. The king presided from a bench. Seated at a lower level in front of him were the lord chief justice and three other justices. The court, the highest in the land, traveled with the king on trips. In the early 1300s, the court began convening without the presence of the king but still traveled to hear cases. However, the government eventually fixed the court's location in Westminster Hall. There, the Court of Common Pleas also held its sessions, hearing cases involving civil and property law and deciding other legal issues not involving the Crown. Over time, the Court of King's Bench also took on civil cases and heard appeals from the lower court. During the reign of Elizabeth I, it was known as the Court of Queen's Bench. In Henry IV Part II, the lord chief justice alludes to the Court of King's Bench when addressing King Henry V, the son of King Henry IV, who has just died:
Be you contented, wearing now the garland [crown],covenant: Contract; legal agreement; pledge. Example:
Be patient, York: if we conclude a peace,cozenage (KUZ en ij): Fraudulent activity or scheme; cheating; deceiving. In Hamlet, the title character says Claudius [Hamlet's uncle] is not only a murderer but also a cozener (one guilty of cozenage).
Does it not, thinks’t thee, stand me now upon—creditor: Person, institution, company, or any other entity that is owed money or something else of value. Example: "Bear me forthwith unto his creditor, / And, knowing how the debt grows, I will pay it" (The Comedy of Errors, 4.4.110-111).
custody: Detention; detainment; state of being held by a law-enforcement officer. Example: "Gaoler, take him to thy custody" (The Comedy of Errors, 1.1.157).
cutpurse: Pickpocket. Example: "Why, this is an arrant counterfeit rascal; I remember him now; a bawd, a cutpurse" (Henry V, 3.6.39).
debtor: Person, institution, company, or any other entity that owes money or something else of value. Examples:
Fortune cannot recompense me betterdecree: Order, judgment, or decision of a court; law. Example: "Thy brother by decree is banished" (Julius Caesar, 3.1.51).
deed of gift: Signed document that transfers a person's money or property to another person as a gift. The recipient is not expected to pay anything in return. Example:
There do I give to you and Jessica,defendant: Person or institution against whom a legal action has been initiated in a court of law. Example: "Thou hast contrived against the very life / Of the defendant" (The Merchant of Venice, 4.1.363-364).
delated: Accusatory; having to do with a legal charge or challenge. Example: "These delated articles [against Norway's king]" (Hamlet, 1.2.40).
depose: (1) Remove from a high office; dethrone; (2) hear or give testimony. Examples:
Henry the Fourth, grandfather to this king,depute: Appoint to a high position; assign authority to; transfer authority to. Example: "There is especial commission come from Venice to depute Cassio in Othello's place" (Othello, 4.2.221).
disannul: Make invalid; annul; cancel. Example: "Warwick disannuls great John of Gaunt" (Henry VI Part III, 3.3.85).
disclaim: Renounce; disown; give up responsibility for. When King Lear disowns his daughter Cordelia, he says,
Here I disclaim all my paternal care,disinherit: Exclude an eligible heir, such as a son or daughter, from receiving his or her inheritance. Example: "Father, you cannot disinherit me: / If you be king, why should not I succeed?"(Henry VI Part III, 1.1.233-234).
distrain: Seize and retain movable property or goods of an individual until he pays a debt or meets an obligation; appropriate (pronounced with a long a). Example: " My father's goods are all distrain'd and sold" (Richard II, 2.3.139).
divest: Relinquish possession of property and/or rights. Example:
He [Henry V] wills you, in the name of God Almighty,divine right of kings: Belief that a monarch received his authority directly from God. Under this belief (which some regarded as morally and legally binding on a ruler’s subjects), a king or queen could make, change, or cancel laws. Rebelling against a monarch was not only a crime but also a grave sin. When invoking his “divine right” in Richard II, the title character says,
The breath of worldly men cannot deposedivorce: Legal termination of a marriage; court document dissolving a marriage. Example:
He counsels a divorce; a loss of herdoom: Judgment; decision or determination of a court.
If King Periclesdowager: Woman who inherits property and a title from her deceased husband; wealthy elderly woman of high social status. Example: "I have a widow aunt, a dowager / Of great revenue, and she hath no child" (A Midsummer Night's Dream, 1.1.162-163).
dower: (1) Property a woman receives for life from her deceased husband's estate; (2) dowry, which is anything of material value, such as money or property, that a man receives from a woman at the time that they are married. Usually the father of the bride pays the dowry. Sometimes, another person offers to pay the dowry. Example: "Choose thou thy husband, and I'll pay thy dower" (All's Well That Ends Well, 5.3.344).
dungeon: Dark prison cell—usually underground, beneath a castle or another building. In some dungeons, the only access was a trapdoor in the ceiling. Example:
That cause, fair nephew, that imprison'd medurance: (1) Imprisonment. Example: "I give thee thy liberty, set thee from durance" (Love's Labour's Lost, 3.1.88).
edict: Pronouncement, proclamation, or ordinance enforced as a law. Example:
And now, forsooth, [King Henry IV] takes on him to reformenact: Make a law. Example: "It is enacted in the laws of Venice" (The Merchant of Venice, 4.1.351).
encroach: Gradually take possession of the rights or property of another; intrude or trespass. Example:
And now the house of York, thrust from the crownenfeoff (en FEEF): Give someone possession of an estate; figuratively, associate oneself with a concept or quality. Example: "[He] enfeoff'd himself to popularity" (Henry IV Part I, 3.2.71).
enfranchised: Free; liberated. Example:
Commend me to him: I will send his ransom;enjoin: Require a person to do or not to do something. Example: "I am enjoin'd by oath to observe three things" (The Merchant of Venice, 2.9.12).
engaol: Place in jail. Shakespeare uses the term figuratively in Richard II: "Within my mouth you have engaol’d my tongue" (Richard II, 1.3.170).
entail: Bequeath; give to a specifically designated heir. Example: "I here entail / The crown to thee and to thine heirs for ever" (Henry VI Part III, 1.1.199-200).
equity: Fairness; unbiased justice. In Henry VI Part II, Gloucester uses the term ironically when he tells King Henry VI,
Ah, gracious lord, these days are dangerous:estate: Deceased person's property and other possessions. Example:
Ventidius latelyexecution: Act of killing a person who has been convicted of committing a serious crime, such as murder or high treason. Methods of execution in Shakespeare's time included hanging and beheading. Example:
Anon, I'm sure, the duke himself in personexecutioner: Person who carries out an execution. Example:
The common executioner,executor: Person legally approved to carry out the provisions of a last will and testament. Example: "Let's choose executors and talk of wills" (Richard II, 3.2.152).
exile: State of living outside of one's native country as punishment for an offense. Example:
The sly slow hours shall not determinateextenuate: Lessen the seriousness of an offense by presenting evidence favorable to the accused. For example, one could extenuate the gravity of the crime of theft by presenting evidence that the thief was stealing food for his starving children. Example: "You may not so extenuate his offence" (Measure for Measure, 2.1.30)
extortion: Illegal use of one's official position to acquire money, property, or power; illegal use of intimidation and violence to obtain something. In Henry VIII, the powerful lord chancellor of England, Cardinal Wolsey, falls out of favor with the king when he attempts to block Henry's plan to marry Ann Boleyn (referred to in the play as Anne Bullen). Wolsey's enemies then seize the opportunity to accuse him of amassing wealth through corrupt practices, including extortion (3.2.347). In Henry VI Part II, Jack Cade calls for the beheading of Lord Say. In defending himself, Say says,
Tell me wherein have I offended most?federary (FED er air e): Co-conspirator; confederate; traitor; accomplice; partner. Example: "She's a traitor and Camillo is / A federary with her" (The Winter's Tale, 2.1.111-112).
fee-simple: In property law in Shakespeare's time, inherited land that the inheritor had complete control to use as he or she saw fit or to transfer at will. Example: “Here's the lord of the soil come to seize me for a stray, for entering his fee-simple without leave” (Henry VI Part II, 4.10.13).
felon: Person guilty of committing a felony. "I do defy thy conjurations, / And apprehend thee for a felon here" (Romeo and Juliet, 5.3.71-71).
felony: Serious crime, such as rape, robbery, arson, or murder. Examples:
Treason, felony,feodary (FE duh re): Accomplice. Example: "Art thou a feodary for this act?" (Cymbeline, 3.2.23).
fetter: Place in shackles; bind the hands and/or feet. Example:
We are no tyrant, but a Christian king;fleece: Swindle; defraud. Example: "Foul felonious thief that fleeced poor passengers" (Henry VI Part II, 3.1.133).
forswear or foreswear: (1) Renounce; reject; disavow as if under oath; (2) commit perjury. Examples:
All pomp and majesty I do forswear;fraud: Deceiving someone to gain money, property, power, or anything else that benefits the deceiver. Example:
I'll hence forthwith unto the sanctuary,fugitive: Person who flees, such as an escaped prisoner, a witness to a crime, or a victim of injustice.
When Talbot hath set footing once in Francegage: Post security to guarantee that a specific obligation or task will be fulfilled. Failure to fulfill the obligation results in a forfeit of the security. In Hamlet, Hamlet's father—also named Hamlet—won vast lands from the King of Norway through a gage agreement.
Our valiant Hamlet [Hamlet's father]gallows: Wooden structure with two vertical posts surmounted by a crossbeam to which a rope is tied to hang a lawbreaker. Example: "But, I prithee, sweet wag, shall there be gallows standing in England when thou art king?" (Henry IV Part I, 1.2.19)
gaoler (JAIL er): Jailer. Example:
You're my prisoner, butgrand jury: Jury convened to decide whether enough evidence exists to indict an accused lawbreaker and hold him or her for trial. Example:
FABIAN: I will prove it legitimate, sir, upon the oaths of judgment and reason.guardian: Person legally authorized to supervise the upbringing of a minor. Example: "O, my lord, wisdom and blood [passion] combating in so tender a body, we have ten proofs to one that blood hath the victory. I am sorry for her, as I have just cause, being her uncle and her guardian" (Much Ado About Nothing, 2.3.71).
gyve (JIVE): Shackle, fetter; leg iron; manacle. Example: "Here is in our prison a common executioner, who in his office lacks a helper: if you will take it on you to assist him, it shall redeem you from your gyves" (Measure for Measure, 4.2.5).
halter: Rope for hanging a person by the neck. Example: "I hope as soon to be strangled with a halter" (Henry IV Part I, 2.4.189).
hearing: Legal proceeding to listen to testimony and gather evidence in order to determine whether to prosecute someone accused of a crime.
His last offences to ushearsay: Details or unverified evidence that a person has been told about by another person but has not heard himself; rumor; gossip. Example:
Now, Ursula, when Beatrice doth come,heir: Offspring of legally married parents who has the right to receive property, rights, and titles. (See also bastard, legitimate, and primogenitive.) Example: "Your father's heir must have your father's land" (King John, 1.1.134).
hereditary: Pertaining to something that a descendant inherits from an ancestor. (See also inheritance.) Example:
To thee and thine hereditary everhomicide: One who kills another person; the killing itself. Shakespeare used the word in five plays, each time to refer to a person or persons. Example:
I am with child, ye bloody homicides:hue and cry: Part of a law enacted in England in 1285 that required each citizen to shout loudly and persistently whenever he or she saw a known criminal or witnessed someone in the act of committing a crime. The citizen was then obliged to chase the offender, if able, while continuing to shout. Citizens hearing the clamor were required to join the chase while also shouting. Under the law, the citizens were empowered to arrest the offender and turn him over to officers of the law. Examples:
First, pardon me, my lord. A hue and cryillegitimate: Pertaining to a child born out of wedlock. (See also bastard, legitimate, and primogenitive.) Example: "I am a bastard begot, bastard instructed, bastard in mind, bastard in valour, in every thing illegitimate" (Troilus and Cressida, 5.7.17).
impartial: Objective; fair; exhibiting no partiality or prejudice. In legal proceedings, a judge is required to be impartial. Example:
Come, cousin Angelo;impawn: Give security for a loan; pawn; pledge. Example: "Take heed how you impawn our person" (Henry V, 1.2.26).
impeach: (1) Accuse of wrongdoing; charge with a crime; (2) discredit; call into question. Examples:
Thou art a villain to impeach me thus:impediment: Obstacle or obstruction preventing a marriage or the creation of any other legal contract. Example: "If either of you know any inward impediment why you should not be conjoined [married], charge you, on your souls, to utter it" (Much Ado About Nothing, 4.1.9).
imprisonment: Confinement of an accused or convicted lawbreaker in a jail or prison. Example:
The weariest and most loathed worldly lifeimpugn: Challenge an assertion as false or open to doubt; challenge a person because of a questionable statement he made or a questionable position he takes. Example: "The Venetian law / Cannot impugn you as you do proceed" (The Merchant of Venice, 4.1.172-173).
incest: Unlawful sexual relations or marriage between two persons closely related, such as a brother and sister or a mother and son. Example:
This king unto him took a fere [spouse],indenture: Original document cut into two parts, or pages, to create an irregular or indented pattern along the cut. On each of the pages was the identical wording of a legal agreement between two parties. Rejoining the pages along the cut verified the authenticity and conditions of the agreement if a dispute arose about the content of the agreement.
indict: Formally charge a person with a criminal offense, usually in a written document. Example: "But now I find I had suborn'd the witness, / And he's indicted falsely" (Othello, 3.4.163-164).
infringe: Break a law; violate an agreement, a vow, a custom. Examples:
Merchant of Syracusa, plead no more;inheritance: Property, rights, and/or titles bequeathed to a child of legally married parents. (See also bastard, legitimate, illegitimate, and primogenitive.) Example: "This small inheritance my father left me / Contenteth me" (Henry VI Part II, 4.10.7-8).
injustice: A wrong; an action that deprives a person of his or her rights. Example:
What stronger breastplate than a heart untainted!Inns of Court: Four London buildings designated before or just after the beginning of the thirteenth century for the education of aspiring lawyers. Their names were Gray's Inn, Lincoln's Inn, the Inner Temple, and the Outer Temple. In Henry VI Part II, Jack Cade, leader of a rebellion against the king and the established order, singles out lawyers as targets of his hostility, telling his followers: "So, sirs: now go some and pull down the Savoy [lodging house for lawyers]; others to the inns of court; down with them all" (4.7.3).
intent: Frame of mind of a person at the time he or she carries out an action. In law, intent is crucial in determining innocence or guilt. For example, if a person kills someone in self-defense, he cannot be found guilty of murder if he can prove his intent was to protect himself. Example:
Thaliard came full bent with sininterrogatory: In law, a written or spoken question. Sometimes the interrogatory is administered to someone under oath; inquiry. Example:
What earthly name to interrogatoriesintestate: Having failed to leave a legal will at the time of death. Example: "Airy succeeders of intestate joys" (Richard III, 4.4.131).
invest: Endow a person with power; grant authority or control. Example:
I do invest you jointly with my power,irregulous: Lawless. Example: "[You] conspir'd with that irregulous devil, Cloten" (Cymbeline, 4.2.387).
issue: Children; offspring; descendants in a direct bloodline. Legal documents, such as wills, often use issue to refer to descendants and lawful heirs. Shakespeare uses this term in many plays and poems to refer to the offspring and lineal descendants of characters. Example:
Mighty sir,jointure: Legal agreement under which a husband is to convey property he holds to his wife if he dies. Example:
Then, Warwick, thus: our sister shall be Edward's [Edward's wife];judge: Public official who presides in court cases, hearing evidence, supervising lawyers, and keeping order. If there is no jury, he or she decides the outcome. Example: "There is a devilish mercy in the judge, / If you'll implore it, that will free your life" (Measure for Measure, 3.1.69-70).
jurisdiction: Authority; control; sphere of authority. Example:
Without the king's assent or knowledge,jury: Specially selected group of persons, usually twelve, who hear evidence in a legal case and deliver a verdict. Example:
The jury, passing on the prisoner's life,just: Fair; right. Example:
What stronger breastplate than a heart untainted!justice: Fairness or rightness; judicial process to determine what is fair and right; treatment that is moral and fair; administration of law and the courts. Example:
Justice, most gracious duke, O, grant me justice!justice of the peace: In Shakespeare's time, an unpaid volunteer who collected taxes and fines and helped enforce laws against minor crimes. Example: "I am Robert Shallow, sir . . . one of the King's justices of the peace" (Henry IV Part II, 3.2.25).
kill: Take the life of someone; put someone to death. Killing someone is not necessarily the same as murdering someone. A person can kill accidentally or in self-defense. In Hamlet, the title character kills Polonius accidentally. In Romeo and Juliet, Romeo kills Tybalt to defend himself and to avenge Tybalt's slaying of Romeo's friend Mercutio. In Julius Caesar, the conspirators kill Caesar in the belief that they are ridding Rome of a dictator. Whether their killing, or assassination, of Caesar was murder or the justified killing of a tyrant is a question that the play explores. When the conspirators meet to discuss the assassination, Brutus tells his partners in the conspiracy,
Let’s kill him boldly, but not wrathfully;law: Body of rules that attempt to tell society what is right and wrong. Laws usually impose fines, imprisonment, or other penalties on lawbreakers. Over the centuries, many laws have been unjust, such as those that supported slavery and forbade women the right to vote. Examples of the use of the word law in Shakespeare:
I am sorry for thee:lawsuit: See suit.
lawyer: Person educated in the law. He or she advises clients on legal matters, such as wills and contracts, and represents them in courts of law. Shakespeare generally casts lawyers as less than upright, as these lines from Timon of Athens indicate: "Crack the lawyer's voice, / That he may never more false title plead" (4.3.162-163). In Henry VI Part II, Dick the Butcher—part of a faction seeking to overthrow the king and the nobility and make everyone equal—says: "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers" (Henry VI Part II, 4.2.43). A famous passage in Hamlet focuses on the skull of a lawyer that gravediggers find as they go about their work.
Why may not that be the skull of a lawyer? Where be his quiddits [equivocations; double talk] now, his quillets, his cases, his tenures, and his tricks? Why does he suffer this rude knave now to knock him about the sconce [head] with a dirty shovel, and will not tell him of his action of battery [beating; pounding] ? Hum! This fellow might be in's time a great buyer of land, with his statutes, his recognizances, his fines, his double vouchers, his recoveries. Is this the fine of his fines, and the recovery of his recoveries, to have his fine pate full of fine dirt? Will his vouchers vouch him no more of his purchases, and double ones too, than the length and breadth of a pair of indentures? The very conveyances of his lands will scarcely lie in this box; and must th' inheritor himself have no more, ha? (5.1.40).leet: Court in feudal times in which a lord heard complaints about weights and measures. Examples: (1) "You [say] you would present her at the leet / Because she would present stone jugs and no sealed [officially approved] quarts" (The Taming of the Shrew, Induction, 2.74-75). (2) "Some uncleanly apprehensions / Keep leets and law days" (Othello, 3.3.162-163).
legacy: Money, property, or something else bequeathed through a lawful will. Example:
And they would go and kiss dead Caesar's woundslegate: Messenger or envoy authorized to conduct business in a foreign country on behalf of the pope. Example:
Stay, my lord legate: you shall first receivelegitimate: Born of legally married parents, qualifying a child in Shakespeare's time and earlier to inherit the father's property and titles; not a bastard. (See also illegitimate and primogenitive.) Example:
Sirrah, your brother is legitimate;letters patent: In Shakespeare's England, a royal grant in the form of an open (unsealed) letter written on parchment and bearing the Great Seal of England to verify the authenticity of the contents. Letters patent were published by the monarch to grant lands, pardons, titles, commissions, positions, recognition of an invention, and certain rights and privileges. Example:
If you do wrongfully seize Hereford's rights,levy: (1) Raise money; (2) enlist troops. Examples:
Did he not, in his protectorship,liable: Obligated by law. Example:
For Anjou and fair Touraine, Maine, Poictiers,libel: Maliciously defaming a person in a written document that is made public. Libel differs from slander in that the latter is spoken, not written. Example:
Sweet scrolls to fly about the streets of Rome!lictor: Ancient Roman official who helped magistrates make arrests and carry out sentences. Example: "Saucy lictors / will catch at us, like strumpets" (Antony and Cleopatra, 5.2.260-261).
lineal: Descending in a direct line from an ancestor; deserving property, rights, and titles as a direct descendant and legal heir. Example:
All the whole inheritance I givemagistrate: Judge in a lower court; a justice of the peace. Example: "Fie, lords! that you, being supreme magistrates, / Thus contumeliously should break the peace!" (Henry VI Part I, 1.3.63-63).
malice: Intention or desire to cause harm or break the law. Example:
How innocent I wasmediator: Person who settles differences between disputants. Example: "To trembling clients be you mediators" (The Rape of Lucrece, line 1071).
mercy: Compassion, kindness, lenience, pity, or sympathy shown to an adversary, a lawbreaker, a condemned prisoner. Example: "I do confess my fault; / And do submit me to your highness' mercy" (Henry V, 2.2.80-81).
minority: State of being too young to rule as a monarch or to assume adult responsibilities. Example:
Ah, he is young and his minoritymisdemeanor: Crime less serious than a felony. Example: "Sir Toby, I must be round with you. My lady bade me tell you, that, though she harbours you as her kinsman, she’s nothing allied to your disorders. If you can separate yourself and your misdemeanors, you are welcome to the house; if not . . . take leave of her, she is very willing to bid you farewell" (Twelfth Night, 2.3.46).
misprision: (1) Neglect in executing the duties of public office; (2) failing or neglecting to report or prevent a felony or an act of treason; deliberately concealing such a crime. Example: “There is some strange *misprision in the princes” (Much Ado About Nothing, 4.1.188).
mitigate: Minimize, lighten, or moderate. In law, "mitigating circumstances" are those which take into account an event, a state of mind, or anything else that lessens the guilt or punishment of a lawbreaker. Examples:
I have spoke thus muchmotive: Reason for committing a crime or performing another action. In Hamlet, Claudius poisons Laertes against Hamlet, telling him that Hamlet not only killed Laertes' father, Polonius, but also "pursued my own life." When Laertes asks Claudius why he has not acted against Hamlet for his deeds "so crimeful and capital in nature," Claudius replies,
O! for two special reasons;murder: Unlawful, premeditated killing of another person. In some plays, Shakespeare uses the archaic word murther for murder. Examples of the use of murder:
GHOST: Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder.mutine (MEW tine, MEW tin): Mutineer; rebel. Example: "Methought I lay worse than the mutines in the bilboes" (Hamlet, 5.2.7-8).
notary: Person authorized to witness signatures on documents and certify that the documents are legally valid . Example: "Go with me to a notary, seal me there / Your single bond" (The Merchant of Venice, 1.3.128-129).
offence or offense: Crime; transgression; act that provokes resentment or anger. In The Comedy of Errors, Angelo asks a merchant why Duke Solinus, ruler of Ephesus, is approaching an abbey, behind which is a place of execution. Angelo answers,
To see a reverend Syracusian merchant,officer: Enforcer of the law. Examples:
Suspicion always haunts the guilty mind;oath: Solemn pledge or promise to do something; vow to tell the truth or to live up to the terms of an agreement. In law, a penalty may be imposed on a person who breaks an oath. Examples:
She should this Angelo have married; was affianced to her by oath, and the nuptial appointed. (Measure for Measure, 3.1.188)objection: Statement of protest; statement protesting the introduction of evidence in a legal proceeding; statement opposing the manner or method in which a legal proceeding is conducted. Example: "As for your spiteful false objections, / Prove them, and I lie open to the law" (Henry VI Part II, 1.3.139-140).
ordinance: Law; decree; established custom. Example:
Either thou wilt die, by God's just ordinance,outlawry: Official term used to designate someone as a lawbreaker. Outlawry deprived a person of his or her legal rights. Example:
By proscription and bills of outlawry,paction: Agreement; compact. Example: "Between the paction of these kingdoms" (Henry V, 5.2.190).
parchment: Sheepskin specially treated to accept ink for the preparation of official documents, including those pertaining to legal matters. In 1450, commoners led by Jack Cade rebelled against King Henry VI. In Henry VI Part II, Shakespeare presents a fictional version of a scene in which Cade is rallying his supporters. One of them, Dick the Butcher, says, "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers" (4.2.43). Cade replies that he plans to do so and, alluding to legal documents, says, "Is not this a lamentable thing, that of the skin of an innocent lamb should be made parchment? that parchment, being scribbled o'er, should undo a man?" (4.2.44).
pardon: To forgive a person for a crime or another offense while canceling any punishment. Example:
What say ye, countrymen? will ye relent,parliament: English legislature, which came into being in the first half of the thirteenth century. In its early days, it may have wielded judicial powers. In the fourteenth century, it was divided into two bodies, the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Parliament asserted its authority when it enacted a law stating that it must approve any changes in taxation. In the fifteenth century, Henry V recognized the authority of Parliament to pass laws approved by the House of Commons and the House of Lords (British Parliament). Example:
I know our safety is to follow them;patrimony: Inheritance or bequest from a father or another paternal ancestor; inheritance via primogeniture. (See primogenitive.)
No good at all that I can do for him;perjury: Lying under oath; bearing false witness. Example:
My conscience hath a thousand several [separate] tongues,petty: In law, an adjective used to describe a minor crime or misdemeanor. Example: "Those petty wrongs that liberty commits" (Sonnet 41, line 1).
pick-purse: Person who steals money from a purse or steals the purse itself. Example: "I think he is not a pick-purse nor a horse-stealer" (As You Like It, 3.4.16).
pillage: Rob money or property by force, especially during a war. Example:
Pirates may make cheap pennyworths of their pillageplaintiff: Person or institution that initiates a civil action in a court of law. Example: "Thou shalt be both the plaintiff and the judge / Of thine own cause" (Twelfth Night, 5.1.321-322).
plea: Assertion in a court of law of innocence or guilt by a person accused of a crime. Example:
The world is still deceived with ornament.A person may also plead "no contest," in which he or she accepts charges without openly admitting guilt or authorizing a defense. Lawyers and judges in England began to use the plea of no contest, or nolo contendere (a Latin term), during the reign of King Henry IV (b. 1367, d. 1413) for accused lawbreakers hoping for mercy.
praemunire (pre myoo NYE re): Law enacted by the English Parliament in 1392 that prohibited a citizen from bypassing a royal court to take a case to the Vatican, which the Crown said wielded too much influence in the country. Henry VIII, who ruled from 1509 to 1547, used this law against Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (1473-1530), the powerful lord chancellor of England, after Wolsey failed to gain the pope's approval for an annulment of Henry's marriage to Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536). The charge against Wolsey was that he was part of a Vatican plot to thwart Henry's plan to marry Anne Boleyn (1501-1536). The law was later modified to include other offenses not related to the Vatican. In Shakespeare's Henry VIII, the duke of Suffolk tells Wolsey,
Lord cardinal, the king's further pleasure is,praetor: Magistrate with judicial and other functions in the ancient Roman republic (509 to 27 BC). A praetor ranked just below a consul. Example:
Be you content: good Cinna, take this paper,precedent: Court decision standing as an example for other courts to follow. Example:
It must not be. There is no power in Venicepremeditated: Planned beforehand; pondered or thought through ahead of time. Premeditated is usually used to describe the mental activity of a person before he or she commits a crime. Example: "Some peradventure have on them [on their consciences] the guilt of premeditated and contrived murder" (Henry V, 4.1.95).
prerogative: Exclusive privilege, right, or power to command, judge, decide, or perform some other action. In The Tempest, Prospero, the duke of Milan, says he gave his brother, Antonio, a taste of power after allowing him to manage the government for a time. Eventually, Antonio became so drunk with power that he overthrew his brother and began "executing the outward face of royalty / With all prerogative" (1.2.122-123).
pressing: Form of legal torture in Shakespeare's time in which a flat board or similar object was placed on the chest of an accused felon who refused to plead innocent or guilty. Heavy weights were placed on the board one after the other to force the person to enter a plea. If the person refused to cooperate, more weights were added. Bones would break and the person would die a painful death. This form of torture was also called peine forte et dure, French for pain that is strong and hard. Example: "Marrying a punk [prostitute; whore], my lord, is pressing to death, whipping, and hanging" (Measure for Measure, 5.1.537).
pretence or pretense: False claim; pretended action or appearance designed to deceive. Example: "He'll fill this land with arms, / And make pretence of wrong that I have done him" (Pericles, Prince of Tyre, 1.2.97-98).
primogenitive: Pertaining to primogeniture, the right of the firstborn (oldest) son of married spouses to inherit the property and titles of his father. If the son's father is a king, the son becomes heir to the throne. If there is no male heir, a daughter or another relative may be designated the heir. (See also bastard, legitimate, and illegitimate.) Example: "The primogenitive and due of birth" (Troilus and Cressida, 1.3.109).
privity: Approval or consent, which is a loose or "popular" interpretation of a technical legal term. The Free Dictionary by Farlex defines this term as "(1) knowledge of something private or secret shared between individuals, especially with the implication of approval or consent; (2) a relation of interest or identity between parties close enough to make one party subject to a suit on a claim against the other or conferred with the same rights and obligations as the other." In Henry VIII, Buckingham uses privity to lodge a complaint:
Why the devil,proditor: Traitor. Example: "Thou most usurping proditor" (Henry VI Part 1, 1.3.35).
proof: Information or testimony that establishes or confirms the truth in a legal proceeding. Example: "On my honour, she was charged with nothing / But what was true and very full of proof" (Much Ado About Nothing, 5.1.116-117).
proscription: Denunciation; condemnation. Example:
By proscription and bills of outlawry,prosecute: Pursue a legal proceeding or some other action. Example:
The king is not himself, but basely ledprotectorship: Control of a country by the guardian of a child monarch. Example:
Did he not, in his protectorship,provost: Prison guard or overseer. Example: "Here comes Signior Claudio, led by the provost to prison" (Measure for Measure, 1.2.63).
quest: Inquest or jury assembled for an inquest; judicial investigation or inquiry. Example:
What lawful quest have given their verdict upquillet: Argument that supports its claim with trivialities; weak argument that avoids admission of the truth with petty reasoning and nitpicking. Example: "In these nice sharp quillets of the law, / Good faith, I am no wiser than a daw" (Henry VI Part I, 2.4.19-20).
quittance: Release from an obligation or a debt; document certifying the release. Example: "[He] writes himself 'Armigero,' in any bill, warrant, quittance, or obligation, 'Armigero.' " (The Merry Wives of Windsor, 1.1.6).
rack: Extendable rectangular frame used to torture a person to force him or her to disclose information. The person was made to lie on the frame, then bound to it by the wrists and ankles. The frame was then gradually extended, stretching the body and causing extreme pain, while the person was questioned. Use of the rack was legal in England between 1447 and the mid-1600s.
Upon the rack, Bassanio! then confessrape: Forcing another person to submit to sexual relations. Example: "He will steal, sir, an egg out of a cloister: for rapes and ravishments he parallels Nessus [centaur in Greek mythology]: he professes not keeping of oaths; in breaking 'em he is stronger than Hercules" (All's Well That Ends Well, 4.3.109).
ratify: Officially approve through legislative or other action. Example:
[Hamlet's father] did slay this [elder] Fortinbras; who, by a seal'd compact,recognizance: Transaction in which a person or persons accepted, in the presence of witnesses, as binding a legal status or condition. For example, a person may have acknowledged, or "recognized," that the boundary of his property did not include land that he once thought was his. Or a person may have acknowledged that he was in debt to his neighbor. Example: "This fellow might be in's [in his] time a great buyer of land, with his statutes, his recognizances, his fines, his double vouchers, his recoveries" (Hamlet, 5.1.40).
record (noun): Written account, especially of court proceedings. Example: "My villainy they have upon record; which I had rather seal with my death than repeat over to my shame" (Much Ado About Nothing, 5.1.171).
recorded (verb): Having to do with a written account of court proceedings. Example:
It must not be; there is no power in Veniceredress: Act of correcting or remedying a wrong. Example: "What need we any spur but our own cause / To prick us to redress?" (Julius Caesar, 2.1.136-137).
regent: Person with authority to rule on behalf of a monarch if he or she is ill, absent, or too young to govern. Example: "Cousin of York, we institute your grace / To be our regent in these parts of France" (Henry VI Part I, 4.1.166-167).
repeal: Revoke or rescind by legislative action; annul or cancel a law. Example:
I here divorce myselfreposssess: Take back ownership. Example:
Brother of Gloucester, at Saint Alban's fieldreprieve: Act of cancelling or postponing a death sentence or another punishment. Example: "[Go] back to Rome, and prepare for your execution: you are condemned, our general has sworn
you out of reprieve and pardon" (Coriolanus, 5.2.37).
restitution: Restoring or paying back property or money stolen from someone; compensating someone for a loss.
He calls me to a restitution largerevoke: revoke: Cancel; rescind; take back; invalidate. Example:
Let them assemble,robbery: Unlawful taking of money or other possessions from a person or persons by using threats or violence. Example: "Some peradventure have on them the guilt of premeditated and contrived murder; some, of beguiling virgins with the broken seals of perjury; some, making the wars their bulwark, that have before gored the gentle bosom of peace with pillage and robbery" (Henry V, 4.1.95).
Salic (or Salique) Law: Medieval law in Germany in force on land occupied by the Franks, Germanic people who later moved westward and established France. The archbishop of Canterbury speaks of this Frankish land and the Salic law in Henry V when attempting to convince King Henry, an English monarch, that he has a rightful claim to the throne of France.
Hear me, gracious sovereign, and you peers,Under the Salic (or Salique) law, a daughter could not inherit the property and entitlements of her father. This proscription applied to all women, including the daughter of a king. Thus, despite her royal status, a king’s daughter could not pass on lands and entitlements of the king to her children; she could not give them what she did not legally possess. In 805, after Charles the Great (Charlemagne) conquered the Saxons (another Germanic people), many of his Franks settled the Salic land, making it—in effect—part of France. One result of this development was that the Salic law supposedly became effective for all of France, not just the Salic portion of it. Therefore, a man descended from the ruling class on the female side of the family was ineligible to become king. Because Henry V was the great-great-grandson of the daughter of a king of France, the French argued, his claim on the French throne was invalid. However, the bishop points out, French kings over the centuries acceded to the French throne even though their claim to it was based on female ancestry. Apparently, the Salic law did not apply to France after all. It was a dusty, ancient relic which could not be applied arbitrarily in opposition to power politics and ambition. But, the archbishop says, if the Salic law did not apply to previous kings of France—if it was, in fact, no longer in force—it should not apply to Henry in 1413. To contend otherwise was to say that France legitimized illegitimate kings. Therefore, the archbishop concludes, Henry has a right to attack France. God will be on his side.
sanctuary: Holy place, such as a church, that afforded someone—such as an accused lawbreaker—immunity from arrest. Example:
God in heaven forbidsedition: Action that incites rebellion against authority. Example: “The vulture of sedition / Feeds in the bosom of such great commanders" (Henry VI Part I, 4.3.50-51).
seize: In law, take possession of; confiscate. Example: "Think what you will, we seize into our hands / His plate, his goods, his money and his lands" (Richard II, 2.1.216-217).
sentence: Penalty imposed by a court of law on a convicted lawbreaker. Example:
In sight of God and us, your guilt is great:shackle: One of a pair of devices that bind the hands or feet. Shakespeare uses the term figuratively in Antony and Cleopatra.
'Tis paltry to be Caesar;sheriff: In Shakespeare's time, a county (shire) peacekeeper for the king or queen. Example: "The sheriff and all the watch are at the door: they are come to search the house. Shall I let them in?" (Henry IV Part I, 2.1.1`86).
sheriff's post: Post at the door of a sheriff's office. On it, the sheriff would display government proclamations with the royal coat of arms. Example: "He'll stand at your door like a sheriff's post" (Twelfth Night, 1.5.69).
signory or seignory (SEEN yuh re): Domain or manor that a feudal lord is legally entitled to; the authority of a feudal lord with a domain. Example:
Though mine enemy [is] restor’d againslander: Intentional, malicious lying (spoken, not printed) that damages the reputation of a person or group of persons; calumny.
I'll devise some honest slandersStar Chamber: English court of law composed of members of the privy council (which advised the king) and judges. Established in 1487, it first carried out administrative tasks; later it passed judgment in cases which could not be settled in the regular courts because of the tendency of some judges in those courts to favor citizens of high social status. Eventually, the Star Chamber itself began misusing its authority and was abolished in 1641. In The Merry Wives of Windsor, a country justice exhibits his displeasure with certain behavior by saying, "I will make a Star Chamber matter of it" (1.1.3).
shrieve: Sheriff. Example: "He was whipped for getting the shrieve's fool with child" (All's Well That Ends Well, 4.3.76).
statute: Law approved by a legislature. Example: "We have strict statutes and most biting laws" (Measure for Measure, 1.3.22).
suborn: Induce a person to break a law; persuade a person to commit perjury.
Hath he not twit our sovereign lady heresue livery: Ask the Crown for permission to take control of inherited land—that is, plea for delivery (sue for livery) of the land. In Henry IV Part I, Henry Percy (Hotspur) says his father helped Henry Bolingbroke before he was king to gain possession of land. Percy says,
My father gave him welcome to the shore;suit: Proceeding in a court of law in which a person or group takes legal action against another person or group. Example:
So can I give no reason, nor I will not,surety: (1) Person who agrees to satisfy a debt for another person if the latter defaults; (2) security presented to guarantee the fulfillment of a promise or obligation. Examples:
He hath a neighbourly charity in him, for he borrowed a box of the ear of the Englishman and swore he would pay him again when he was able: I think the Frenchman became his surety and sealed under for another. (The Merchant of Venice, 1.2.19)suspect (verb): Consider a person or persons guilty of wrongdoing on the basis of evidence. Example: "Then you, belike [probably], suspect these noblemen / As guilty of Duke Humphrey's timeless death" (Henry VI Part II, 3.2.195-196).
suspicion: Belief that a person or persons, or a company or institution, may be guilty of wrongdoing. Example:
God forbid any malice should prevail,suum cuique: (SOO um KWE kway): Latin: to each his own; to each what is due to him. Example:
'Suum cuique' is our Roman justice:swear: Affirm or declare under oath; testify. Example: "He swore consent to your succession, / His oath enrolled in the parliament" (Henry VI Part III, 2.1.176-177).
Ten Commandments: Ten commands against immoral behavior, or sin, inscribed on two stone tablets given to Moses by God on Mount Sinai, according to the Bible. Example: "Thou concludest like the sanctimonious pirate, that went to sea with the Ten Commandments, but scraped one out of the table" (Measure for Measure, 1.2.6).
testimony: Evidence presented to support or reject an assertion or accusation.
Good uncle, take you in this barbarous Moor,tharborough: Constable; law officer. Example: "I am his grace's tharborough" (Love's Labour's Lost, 1.1.181).
theft: Unlawful taking of another person's money or property. Example: "His thefts were too open; his filching was like an unskillful singer; he kept not time" (The Merry Wives of Windsor, 1.3.15).
Title: Document intended as proof of ownership. Example:
BISHOP OF ELY: How did this offer seem receiv’d, my lord?traitor: Turncoat; person who betrays his country or a cause. Example: "Go, take hence that traitor from our sight; / For by his death we do perceive his guilt" (Henry VI Part II, 2.3.80-81).
treason: Violation of the loyalty that a person owes to his country; action to overthrow a sovereign and his government. Example:
Our kinsman Gloucester is as innocenttreaty: Formal, written agreement signed by two or more nations to end war, create an alliance, establish trade relations, settle a dispute, or decide other issues.
We are convented [convened]trespass: Violation of the rights of a person or intrusion on his or her property or privacy; wrongdoing; transgression.
His trespass yet lives guilty in thy blood;tribunal plebs: In the ancient Roman republic (509-27 BC), a tribune of the plebs (tribune of the common people.) A tribune was an elected official who protected the rights of the common people, or plebeians, from unfair practices of patricians (the aristocratic elite) and from members of the Roman Senate and other high officials. Example: "Why, I am going with my pigeons to the tribunal plebs, to take up a matter of brawl betwixt my uncle and one of the emperial's men" (Titus Andronicus, 4.3.88).
umpire: Person with the legal power to settle a dispute; arbiter; arbitrator. Shakespeare uses the term figuratively in Henry VI Part I:
But now the arbitrator of despairs,usance: Usury, the practice of lending money at interest. In medieval times, this practice was considered sinful. Example: "He lends out money [without charging interest] and brings down / The rate of usance here with us in Venice" (The Merchant of Venice, 1.3.23-24).
usury: Practice of lending money at a high interest rate. One who does so is a userer. Example: "They make edicts for usury to support userers" (Coriolanus, 1.1.46).
vice: Criminal or immoral behavior; evil, wicked conduct; corruption. Example:
Be not thy tongue thy own shame's orator;warder: Gatekeeper at a prison; prison guard. Example: "Where be these warders, that they wait not here? / Open the gates" (Henry VI Part I, 1.3.5-6)
witchcraft: Sorcery; attempting to wield supernatural powers. In the Europe of Shakespeare's time, witchcraft was outlawed under penalty of death in many countries. Example:
I pray you all, tell me what they deservewarrant: Document authorizing an arrest, a search, a seizure of property, or some other legal action. Examples: (1) "Here is a warrant from / The king to attach Lord Montacute" (Henry VIII, 1.1.258-259). (2) "The provost hath / A warrant for his execution" (Measure for Measure, 1.4.81-82).
will or testament: Legal document in which a person makes known what is to be done with his possessions after his death. Examples:
Here's a parchment with the seal of Caesar;witness: Person who sees or hears something take place. In courts of law, witnesses testify about what they saw or heard. Examples:
A bargain made: seal it, seal it; I'll be the witness. (Troilus and Cressida, 3.2.145)writ: Written command or directive that has the force of law. Example:
This is the tenor of the emperor's writ:Shakespeare Documented: Family, Legal, and Property Records.
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