Law In Romeo And Juliet Essay, Research Paper
The Legal System The legal system plays an important role in the play of Romeo and Juliet and in the world of Shakespeare. Shakespeare used a wide array of legal terminology in his plays. It is estimated Shakespeare possessed a vocabulary of about thirty thousand words. Legal terms appear in a good deal of Shakespearean literature (McCrum, Cran, MacNeil 102-103). That has led some to the conclusion that Shakespeare did indeed have some legal education. But Shakespeare has stated in some works that he wants to “Kill all the lawyers.” This plainly shows Shakespeare’s contempt for lawyers; he found them to be corrupt, dishonest people(Brucher, 168). The courts were used often by the people of this period . There were few Elizabethans or Jacobeans that stayed out of court. Writs, plaints, latitats, subpoenas, citation, and presentments were a part of all from the lives of the lowly countrymen to the nobility. Even the poor and those without land needed to know about the ways of collecting small debts and resolving quarrels amongst one another. It has been credibly suggested that this was the most litigious period in English history; therefore it is then evident why legal terms appear in his literature and many other Elizabethan works. It may be possible that Shakespeare targeted the elite class but it is doubtful the legal aspects in Shakespearean literature were presented to impress only the elite. The common man needed to possess some legal knowledge and therefore knew the legal terminology used in the plays. The legal system was part of the everyday life of people in the time period in which Romeo and Juliet was written (Baker, 41). Prince Escalus headed the legal system in the play: his title, prince, states he is a monarch ; therefore, Verona’s government and legal system is a monarchy. He was the main authority in the play – all respected him. He word was law (Shakespeare, 667). Monarchs of the time held the ultimate authority. They were responsible before God alone. This doctrine was known as the ” Divine right of kings.”(Halsall, Internet) Most European countries had a monarchy for a government. It was common to have a strong ruler to keep the country from having their nobles fight amongst themselves. The king kept countries unified as one nation under one ruler however many kings and queens became corrupt. This led to the many upheavals in European history where the majority of the kings and queens were overthrown in violent revolutions. New forms of government that kept the power out of the hands of one single man were instituted in most situations (Halsall, Internet). Shakespeare’s homeland, England, had a monarchy. This monarchy, however, was kept from having supreme power. The king had to follow the laws kept to keep him under control. The law was written where no one could be prosecuted in there own court. Since all the courts were the king’s courts, the king could do no wrong. However, if someone’s rights were violated, the law stated a man could file a petition of right. Then a group of judges reviewed the case and decided if someone’s rights were violated under the law. A Privy Council also restrained the king. They were technically a board of advisers appointed by the monarch. The Council had ruling power. However at this time his power was more noticeable than his restraints. England today still has a monarchy, but, the monarch is merely a figurehead, having no say over the governmental or legal systems (Elton, 1-2). The head of the legal system in Romeo and Juliet is the monarch, Prince Escalus. Juliet was betrothed to Paris in the play (Shakespeare, 672). It was common in this time when a man wanted to marry a woman he would not ask her, he would ask her father. This was also because women had little legal rights in this point in time. Sometimes a married couple would not meet until their wedding day. The morality of it was questioned in later years and this is why it is extremely rare in Western civilization. This still occurs in Middle Eastern and Asian societies (Halsall, Internet). Prince Escalus threatened to execute whoever fights again (Shakespeare, 667). When Tybalt confronts Mercutio and Benvolio he is looking for a fight. He wishes to battle Romeo, but Romeo has so much joy in his heart because he has just wed Juliet and he does not wish to fight Tybalt. Tybalt is now his brother-in-law. Mercutio is appalled by this and fights Tybalt. Romeo attempts to break it up by stepping between Mercutio and Tybalt and Tybalt thrusts his sword under Romeo’s arm, killing Mercutio. Romeo should let Prince Escalus punish Tybalt. The legal system would serve justice. Instead, in the heat of rage over Mercutio’s death, Romeo attacks Tybalt and kills him. The legal procedure that Prince Escalus has enacted was death unto whoever fought again. Tybalt would receive this punishment. Anger can blind us to the immorality and the illegality of an act. This should teach the audience who sees this play never to act when in a state of rage. They should always think before they act because otherwise they will act irrationally without reasoning their actions out. Romeo takes the legal system into his own hands and hands out justice as he wants it dealt (Shakespeare, 715-718). This is an example of people acting as a vigilante in the play. The ripple effect of the revenge murder of Tybalt is Romeo’s banishment from Verona. When Prince Escalus banishes Romeo for his vengeful act it changed the path of the play completely (Shakespeare, 720). This shows the legal system plays an important role in the play. Banishment was not an uncommon act for punishing criminals because jails were rare. There was no money to fund a jail. Alternatives to jail time employed then were capital punishment. The major crimes were treason, murder, and felonies. Felonies included manslaughter, rape, buggery, robbery, and grand larceny (stealing anything worth at least twelve pence)(Baker, 45). Felonies and all other major crimes carried a death sentence (Baker, 45) as seen by what Prince Escalus would have imposed on Romeo. Banishment is the sentence because of Tybalt’s prior offense of killing Mercutio (Shakespeare, 720). Prosecution could be rather slow. There was no regular police force in this time. This could make it difficult to make criminals appear in court. There were constables and the local magistrates, but they were extremely inefficient in investigating crimes. This led to frequent complaints about injustices. (Baker, 46)
Another example of the characters acting as a vigilante in the play takes place after Romeo kills Tybalt and flees the scene, and a citizen of the city approaches Benvolio. He attempts to recruit Benvolio in his attempt to capture Romeo (Shakespeare, 718). The citizen wanted to capture Romeo: a private citizen doing a lawman’s work. This might have been more common because of the lack of a regular police force(Baker, 46). This is another example of people taking the legal system unto themselves. People sometimes feel obligated to do this. When Romeo is banished from Verona he is supposed to receive a letter from Friar Lawrence about Juliet. Juliet was to take a potion from Friar Lawrence that would make her fall unconscious for forty-two hours. She would appear to be dead. Friar John is supposed to take a letter to Romeo informing him of the situation, but he never makes it because he was quarantined by the townspeople: it was feared they had the dreaded Black Plague, the cause of death for nearly one-third of Europe’s population. People were extremely scared of the plague. It killed quickly and often ravaged the victim, causing a horrible death(Fenton, 48). Friar John’s detainment has grave consequences. The letter from Friar Lawrence never gets to Romeo, and Romeo’s friend Balthasar tells him Juliet has died. Romeo fell into a state of despair; it is unbeknownst to him that Juliet is merely in a comatose state. Friar John’s delay led to the very tragic ending of the story. The legal system that is shown here is that in emergencies, law can sometimes violate rights of people out of necessity. The monarch can put out rules in emergencies that have to be obeyed. This emergency case was the Black Plague and it might have been even more widespread if not for these legal measures taken(Fenton, 48). After Romeo hears the grave news of what he thought was the death of Juliet he buys poison that would end his life. The apothecary, who is like a pharmacist because he sells medicine and such, is a very poor man. He looks haggard and wears rags. Romeo asks him for poison that will kill him quickly. This poison is illegal in Mantua, much the same as cocaine, marijuana, heroin, and other drugs are today. The apothecary sells him the poison because he is starving and needs the money for food. People perform illegal acts out of need or sometimes out of monetary greed. People today sell illegal drugs just like people today sell illegal drugs to those willing to pay for them. The final scene of the play is when Paris, accompanied by his page, goes to the Capulet crypt to pay his respects to Juliet. Romeo, in his state of suicidal despair, makes his way there accompanied by Balthasar. He tells Balthasar to leave him if he is his friend. Balthasar leaves but stays in the distance. Paris tells his page to stay at distance. When Romeo arrives at the Capulet crypt he finds Paris already there. Romeo is supposed to be banished from Verona. Paris attempts to put Romeo under arrest. Paris wants to apprehend Romeo to answer for the crime of killing Tybalt. This is an example of citizen’s arrest in the play(Shakespeare 763). Paris probably felt he had the power to do this because he is a rich nobleman and Prince Escalus is one of his kin(Bloom, 27). In conclusion the legal system does indeed play an important role in the play. The legal system affects all aspects of life in the world Romeo and Juliet lived in and the world of Shakespeare. It was a major part of the lives of the common man to the lives of nobility. The legal system played a role in the personal lives of the people of the play. The betrothal of Paris to Juliet is an example of this. The legal system was on some occasions manipulated by the people in the play to be enacted as they saw fit. This is seen when Romeo in the heat of anger murders Tybalt in revenge for Tybalt’s murder of Mercutio. The next example is seen right after Tybalt’s murder, a citizen attempts to have Benvolio accompany him to capture Romeo. This is people acting as vigilantes. Romeo also shows that in the heat of anger people are blinded to the fact that certain actions are illegal. This action should teach the audience that decisions should not be made when in a state of rage. Greed also makes people ignore that an act is forbidden by the legal system. This is shown when the apothecary sells Romeo the poison. When Friar John is quarantined because it is feared he has the dreaded Black Plague it is an example of the legal system adapting to the situation in the case of an emergency for the general welfare of the citizens. Romeo and Juliet is an excellent Shakespearean play that has a well governed legal system. This legal system plays a powerful role in the play and the lives of the people in it.