Law And William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare and his character of “Portia” in his famous play “Merchant of Venice” gave to the world the much often cited phrase “extracting his pound of flesh in Shylock manner”.
One Would Invariably hear this phrase being used in Debt Recovery Tribunal case proceedings and other recovery suits. The debtor would always plead with the creditor to act in a more reasonable and compassionate manner and not act like a Shylock.
William Shakespeare as such, is inextricably linked with the law. Legal backdrop narrations make up most of his records, plays and dramas, which give a window to his writings and creations.
In England at Law Schools, Shakespeare is always referred to and discussed by the student community and the faculty with considerable passion that law and literature have to offer.
In fact there is a widely read book in England on this subject titled- “Shakespeare and the Law”. It is this book which inspired us to this special feature on Shakespeare.
In this Article, we try to present the influence that Shakespeare holds on the Indian legal world.
William Shakespeare His Life
William Shakespeare, England’s national poet popularly known as the “Bard of Avon”, is considered the greatest English writer of all times. The illustrious English poet, literary critic and playwright John Dryden described Shakespeare as “the man, who of all modern, and perhaps ancient poets, had the largest and most comprehensive soul.” Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, a bustling market town in Warwickshire 100 miles northwest of London, and baptized there on 26th April, 1564 in the Church of the Holy Trinity. Shakespeare’s father, John was a farmer, money lender, glover, leather tanner, wool merchant, alderman and High Bailiff (the equivalent of mayor) who was even granted a personal coat of arms by the wonderfully medieval-sounding Heralds College (presently the College of Arms). The highly ambitious John scrupulously elevated his social status by marrying Shakespeare’s mother Mary Arden, the heiress-daughter of Robert Arden, an aristocratic landowner from Wilmcote, South Warwickshire. Though no records of Shakespeare’s education survive, it is widely believed that he attended the reputed King Edward VI Grammer School in Stratford, where he studied “small Latin and less Greek” and the classics. At the tender age of 18, Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway, a woman eight years older to him, in feverish haste induced by Anne’s pre-marital pregnancy-thanks to Shakespeare himself! Anne bore him three children. His first daughter Susanna, was born in May, 1583 and the twins Hamnet and Judith followed close upon her heels in February,1585. After the baptism of the twins on 7th April, 1585, Shakespeare, in order to earn a decent living and take proper care of his steadily growing family, worked as a schoolteacher, studied law, travelled the length and breadth of continental Europe, joined an acting troupe that was transiting in Stratford and even went to the extent of poaching deer from the estate of Thomas Lucy, a local squire, whereafter he was forced to flee Stratford to escape prosecution. It was only in 1592, after virtually seven “lost” years, that Shakespeare surfaced as an actor, penned his maiden plays and firmly anchored himself in London writing about the city’s myriad history, geography, culture and diverse personalities with considerable élan. His earliest works revealed a deep and intense knowledge and understanding of European affairs and foreign lands, an intimate familiarity with the Royal Court of England and it’s diverse customs and traditions and an incisive general erudition. Having gained an enviable reputation as an actor and playwright, Shakespeare ruffled quite a few feathers in London and a contemporary ageing and embittered playwright and critic and envious rival Robert Green even disparagingly described him in a 1592 pamphlet entitled “ Groats-Worth of Witte” as “an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tygers hart wrapt in a Players hyde, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blanke verse as the best of you: and being an absolute Johannes fac totum, is in his owne conceit the onely Shake-scene in a country.”
Shakespeare, in order to earn a decent living and take proper care of his steadily growing family, worked as a schoolteacher, studied law, travelled the length and breadth of continental Europe, joined an acting troupe that was transiting in Stratford
In 1593, Shakespeare was fortuitous enough to find a worthy patron in the 19 year old nobly born, affluent, magnanimous and handsome Henry Wriothesley, the Third Earl of Southampton. It was Wriothesley who gave Shakespeare a thousand pounds which enabled him to become one of the managing partners of the prestigious playing company “Lord Chamberlain’s Men” (renamed the King’s Men after the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1603 upon the company being awarded a royal patent by the new King James I). By the last years of Elizabeth I’s reign, Shakespeare was well established as a multifaceted poet and playwright and was called upon to perform several of his plays before the Queen at court. In 1598, the English churchman and author Francis Meres described the “mellifluous & honeytongued” Shakespeare in his commonplace book “Palladis Tamia, Wits Treasury” as “England’s greatest writer in comedy and tragedy.”
“The man, who of all modern, and perhaps ancient poets, had the largest and most comprehensive soul”
In his last phase, he wrote tragicomedies like “All’s Well that Ends Well”, “Measure for Measure”, “Troilus and Cressida”, “The Winter’s Tale” and “Timon of Athens”. Shakespeare spent the last five years of his life in New Place, the second largest dwelling in Stratford, which had been built in 1483 by Sir Hugh Clopton, a wealthy London mercer and Lord Mayor. In 1623, two of Shakespeare’s friends and fellow-actors viz. John Heminges and Henry Condell published a collection of his plays, commonly known as the “First Folio”, which was prefaced with a laudatory poem by the venerable dramatist, playwright, poet, actor and critic Ben Jonson, in which Shakespeare was hailed, presciently, as “not of an age, but for all time.”
In 1602, Shakespeare’s continuing success enabled him to move to the upmarket Silver Street in London, near where the Barbican Centre (Europe’s largest multi-arts and conference venue and home to the London Symphony Orchestra) is now situated. Here, he wrote some of his greatest tragedies such as “Hamlet”, “Othello”, “King Lear”, and “Macbeth”.
Shakespeare died on 23 April 1616, at the age of 52 of unknown causes, a month after signing his last will and testament in which he described himself as being in “perfect health”. He left the bulk of his large estate to his daughter Susanna, with the express condition that she pass it down intact to “the first son of her body” and bequeathed his wife Anne, who outlived him by seven years, only his “second-best bed”! He was buried in the chancel of the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford two days after his death. The epitaph carved into the stone slab covering his simple grave carries an ominous curse, written presumably by the bard himself, to ward off grave diggers : “Good friend for Jesus’ sake forbear, /Blessed be the man that spares these stones, / And cursed be he that moves my bones.” His interred remains have yet to be exhumed, despite fervent requests by archaeologists and historians keen to unearth the cause of his untimely demise. Of the many tributes that flowed in from fellow authors after his death, one by the eminent English scholar and poet James Mabbe refers to his relatively sudden death, “We wondered, Shakespeare, that thou went’st so soon/From the world’s stage to the grave’s tiring room.” Shakespeare’s birthday is traditionally celebrated on 23rd April (which is actually the day of his death!), as it coincides with the Feast Day of St. George, the Patron Saint of England.
With William Shakespeare
-By Anoop Bose
LawZ Interviews Anoop Bose, Whose Love For Shakespeare and English Language are all too well known, both At the Bar And on the Bench
On 24th April,1991, a day after Shakespeare’s birthday was celebrated across the globe, my beloved father Satyendra Nath Bose, left this world for his heavenly abode. He was a career bureaucrat in New Delhi but was at the same time an enthusiastic educationist and teacher who was intoxicated with Shakespeare and well versed in his varied works. My father inherited from his own father the original 1895 leather bound 675 paged edition of “The Works of Shakespeare” by the legendary chess player turned ardent Shakespeare aficionado Howard Staunton with the most beautiful 511 illustrations by Sir John Gilbert, which is now one of my prized possessions.
But my love for Shakespeare actually sprang up when I was being tutored in English at home as a child from the tender age of four by a grand old English lady who belonged to the 19th century and proudly bore the name Elisabeth Rose Anderson. I used to affectionately call her “Granny” and she literally taught me how to write and read English by hitting the knuckles of my fingers with a stiff wooden ruler whenever I faltered or floundered. She instilled in me an undying love for Shakespeare and his works and was never tired of reading out to me in her perfect Victorian accent excerpts from the plays of Shakespeare when I used to run about in my starched cotton knickers held in place by a pair of tough French Pascal suspenders.
She also familiarised me with the veritable multitude of words and phrases that Shakespeare had coined or popularised that inevitably became an indispensable part of my everyday vocabulary, e.g. the words “fashionable”, “sanctimonious”, “eyeball”, “lacklustre”, “abstemious”, “scuffle”, “addiction”, “auspicious”, “bedazzled”, “inaudible”, “castigate”, “dwindle”, “ensnare”, “multitudinous”, “time-honoured”, “vulnerable”, and “watchdog”, and the phrases “in a pickle” , “wild goose chase, “fair play”, “one fell swoop”, “all that glitters is not gold”, “best foot forward”, “brave new world”, “brevity is the soul of wit”, “devil incarnate”, “break the ice”, “fancy-free”, “flaming youth” , “foregone conclusion”, “full circle”, “heart of gold”, “in my heart of hearts, “itching palm”, “laughing stock”, “love is blind”, “pitched battle”, “milk of human kindness”, “much ado about nothing”, “out of the jaws of death, “parting is such sweet sorrow, “ pomp and circumstance”, “pound of flesh”, “salad days”, “sea change”, “sound and fury”, “spotless reputation”, “swift as a shadow” and “tower of strength”. I remember with a feeling of helpless nostalgia that during my tutelage under Granny, Granny presented to me on one of my most memorable birthdays a hardbound 1964 edition of “Tales from Shakespeare” by Charles and Mary Lamb, published by Ward, Lock & Co. Ltd., London, which has fortunately withstood the ravages of time.
My baptism by fire came when I was only nine years old and was called upon to recite Mark Anthony’s ever popular speech “Friends, Roman, Countrymen” from Julius Caeser at the Annual Day function of my school viz. Delhi Public School, Mathura Road, New Delhi, in the distinguished presence of the then British High Commissioner to India, Sir Paul Henry Gore-Booth, who happened to be the Chief Guest at the function. I was introduced to Sir Paul by my tall and lanky school Principal Din Dayal shortly after my full throated rendition of Mark Anthony’s speech in a perfect English accent that visibly moved Sir Paul. He asked me inquisitively, “Where did you learn to speak such good English?” I answered with amazing gumption, “You have to thank my English Granny for that who is bringing me up like an English boy in a Victorian setting with a tough hand and an even tougher wooden ruler.”We both had a merry laugh! When I was a school going child, my closest neighbour in Delhi was the British born Joy Michael, the charismatic actress and indisputably the “Mother” of English Theatre in Delhi. Aunty Joy (for that’s what I called her!) had studied Speech and Drama at the famed London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, the oldest drama school in the UK, and had undergone theatre training at the British Drama League. She had also founded the first drama company in Delhi called “Yatrik”.
Every Friday evening, Aunty Joy used to have a private film screening at her residence for specially invited guests and the very first film I had the immense pleasure of viewing as a little child was the all time 1948 classic Hamlet starring Sir Lawrence Kerr Olivier. I was overwhelmingly mesmerised by Olivier’s matchless performance and in particular by his magnificent rendering of the “To be or not to be” soliloquy. Aunty Joy drew me even closer to Shakespeare during my formative years over generous helpings of delectable trifle fruit pudding. My love for Shakespeare and his titanic works grew steadily over the years and I managed to pick up a copy of the first 345 paged Indian edition of the complete works of Shakespeare published by the Standard Literature Co. Ltd., Calcutta, from a second hand book shop nestled in Calcutta’s iconic College Street. I still have the book in the pink of condition! Shakespeare was taught with great gusto in my school and I studied Macbeth for my final Indian School Certificate examinations in 1969.The three “fair is foul and foul is fair” witches in particular caught my imagination in an indefinable manner! My school had excellent teachers who had a remarkable grasp of Shakespeare. Principal Dayal had taught at Winchester College, Vice Principal S.L.Dhawan had taught at Gordonstoun (and Prince Charles too!) and my English teacher Mrs. S.Bhugra had lived in England for many years and had taught in various schools in England (she once confessed to me in one of her lighter moments that my English accent was vastly superior to her accent but was rather old fashioned!).
Thanks to Granny and my indefatigable love and admiration for Shakespeare, I have an impeccable command of both written and spoken English. Whilst in Delhi Public School and Delhi University, I used to be invited by many schools, colleges, educational institutions and other organisations to recite diverse passages from Shakespeare. I once even had the occasion to review the St.Stephen’s College production of Hamlet way back in 1975 in the college magazine “Kooler Talk”, edited by my close friend Vinaysheel “Muli” Oberoi, who is presently the Union Secretary, Ministry of Human Research Development, New Delhi. I vividly remember that all the costumes and other accessories had been stolen from the “Shakesoc” room the night before the play was to be staged in the college auditorium and a small note had been left behind by the thieves, “Twixt the sky and the Quack you will find all that I did whack!” Naturally, the play had to go on and Gertrude, the Queen of Denmark, actually appeared on stage in a tattered night gown much to the amusement of the largely appreciative audience.
In my review, I paid this tribute, “It is impossible to compare the St.Stephen’s College “costumeless” production of Hamlet with the 1964 Broadway production of Hamlet in rehearsal clothes starring the formidable Richard Burton, but if such comparisons are possible, the superb St.Stephen’s College production will be on a very high footing.” Whilst talking about Richard Burton and Hamlet, I am irresistibly reminded of a very interesting incident involving the incomparable British Prime Minister Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill and Burton, whom Churchill always referred to as “My Lord Hamlet”. In 1953, Churchill attended a performance of Hamlet at the Old Vic (the historical theatre located just south-east of Waterloo Station in London) in which Burton played the title role. Seated at the front of the theatre, Churchill recited Hamlet’s lines right along with Burton, straight from his prodigious memory. Burton subsequently recalled, “I came on stage, feeling absolutely diabolical, and I hear this extraordinary rumble in the front row of the stalls. I wondered what it was. It was Winston speaking the lines with me. And I could not shake him off..I tried going fast, I tried going slow; we did cuts. Every time there was a cut an explosion occurred. He knew the play absolutely backward; he knows perhaps a dozen of Shakespeare’s plays intimately.” In the early 1980s, I participated in a number of Shakespeare’s plays that were broadcast over All India Radio, Kolkata, and drew wide acclaim. If I were asked to choose my favourite Shakespearean actors, I would without even batting an eyelid pick out Sir Lawrence Kerr Olivier, Sir Michael Redgrave, Sir Ralph Richardson, Sir Peter O’Toole, Sir Alec Guiness, Sir John Gielgud, Robert Donat, Richard Burton, Boris Karloff, Christopher Plummer, Paul Schofield and Basil Rathbone. All these giants of the stage and screen are sadly no more in our midst but their majestic voices will continue to inspire generations of Shakespeare lovers to come.
From the content of my speeches, readers can very well draw a fair and reasonable inference that Shakespeare was not entirely forgotten
In February,2009, I had the rare privilege of addressing a select gathering of MPs and other eminent persons in the House of Lords on “World Peace and Universal Understanding” and was invested with the highly coveted “Ambassador of Peace” award. I peppered my speech with a couple of Shakespeare quotes! I was also invited as a guest speaker by The Queen Elizabeth II Academy for Leadership in International Affairs, popularly known as “Chatham House”, on two separate occasions and though the Chatham House rules forbid me from disclosing the content of my speeches, readers can very well draw a fair and reasonable inference that Shakespeare was not entirely forgotten.
“My Collection of SHAKESPEAREAN LP Records”
– Anoop Bose
I am an avid lover of western classical music and have the largest private collection of western classical music in India in the form of 33 rpm long playing vinyl records. Amongst my collection of records, I have a veritable treasure house of historical recordings of Shakespeare’s plays and music of Shakespeare’s era and the immortal words of Shakespeare “If music be the food of love, play on, Give me excess of it” never cease to fascinate me. One of my favourite recordings is the 1962 recording of “Shakespeare/Soul of an Age” featuring the timeless voices of Sir Ralph Richardson and Sir Michael Redgrave. Other rare recordings are :
“10 Great Shakespeare Plays” – Mercury Hill’s 1973 recording featuring the great English voices like Richard Burton, Sir Ralph Richardon, Sir John Gielgud, Sir Michael Redgrave, Sir Peter O’Toole, Dame Peggy Ashcroft etc. – 10 records set
“Ages of Man” – Sir John Gielgud – 2 records set
“Excerpts from Hamlet and King Richard II” – Maurice Evans
Scenes from Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Henry V” – Sir Laurence Olivier
“Macbeth” – An Old Vic Company Production with Sir Alec Guiness and Pamela brown – 2 records set
“A Midsummer’s Night Dream” – An Old Vic Company Production 1954 – 3 records set
“King Richard II” – Sir John Gielgud 1961 – 3 records set
“Romeo & Juliet” – An Old Vic Company Production 1960 – 3 records set
“Othello” – British Council Production 1971 – 4 records set
“Twelfth Night” – British Council Production 1961 – 4 records set
“The Taming of the Shrew” – British Council Production 1963 – 3 records set
“The Merchant of Venice” – British Council Production 1961 – 4 records set
“Hamlet” – An Old Vic Company Production 1957 with Sir John Gielgud
“Hamlet” – Living Shakespeare Production 1961with Sir Michael Redgrave – 2 records set
“Macbeth” – Living Shakespeare Production 1961with Sir Michael Redgrave
“As You Like It” – British Council Production 1961 – 3 records set
“Music for Merchants and Monarchs” – James Tyler
“Shakespeare Songs and Consort Music” – Alfred Deller Consort under Desmond Dupre
“Songs to Shakespeare” by Graham Trew (Baritone) and Roger Vignoles (Piano)
“Elizabethan Music” – The Julian Bream Consort
“ Instruments of the Middle Ages and Renaissance” – The Early Music Consort of London – 2 records set
“The English Renaissance” – Alfred Deller Consort – 3 records set
“A Midsummer’s Night Dream” by Felix Bartholdy Mendelssohn – Bavarian Radio Orchestra – Rafael Kubelik
“A Midsummer’s Night Dream” by Mendelssohn – Warsaw National Philharmonia – Witold Rowicki
“A Midsummer’s Night Dream” by Mendelssohn – Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra – Ferenc Fricsay
“A Midsummer’s Night Dream” by Mendelssohn – New Philharmonia Orchestra – Rafael Freuhbeck de Burgos
“Romeo & Juliet” by Sergei Prokofiev – Boston Symphony Orchestra – Charles Munch
“Romeo & Juliet” by Prokofiev – Complete Ballet 1973 – London Symphony Orchestra – Andre Previn – 4 records set
“Macbeth” by Guiseppe Verdi – Santa Cecelia Orchestra Rome – Thomas Schippers – 4 records set
“Otello” by Verdi – NBC Symphony Orchestra – Arturo Toscanini (1947) – 4 records set
Harold Bloom, the well known American literary critic and Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale University in his monumental treatise on Shakespeare entitled “Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human” has aptly observed that : “I do not know if God created Shakespeare but I know that Shakespeare created us, to an altogether startling degree..Shakespeare is the true multicultural author. He exists in all languages. He is put on the stage everywhere. Everyone feels that they are represented by him on the stage…Shakespeare will not make us better, and he will not make us worse, but he may teach us how to overhear ourselves when we talk to ourselves..he may teach us how to accept change in ourselves as in others, and perhaps even the final form of change…Shakespeare was larger than Plato and than St.Augustine. He encloses us, because we see with his fundamental perceptions.” Here was a Shakespeare! When comes such another?
– Anoop Bose
Supreme Court of India
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