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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: March ::
Re: Questions
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.0472  Thursday, 13 March 2003

From:           James Conlan <
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Date:           Wednesday, 12 Mar 2003 15:22:52 +0000
Subject: 14.0446 Re: Questions
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0446 Re: Questions

David Evett uses rhetorical theory to relativize the rules of precedence
that inform the concluding couplet of _Romeo and Juliet_:

>But sequence need not determine social precedence--a victorious Roman
>general entering the city in triumph was preceded, not followed, by the
>magistrates and senators sent to the gates to escort him to the
>Capitol.  Early modern rhetoric in the figure of *gradatio* (Gk.
>*climax*) recognized that the last item in a series, not the first, is
>the most emphatic.  The point is made all the more strongly when the
>final word of the series is the final word of the work.  And
>strengthened further in a couplet when the final item ends the line and
>rhymes, while the earlier item occupies the relatively unemphatic
>position in the middle.

This theorizing needs correction:

First, the order of precedence was a branch of heraldic law. It cannot
be derived from poetical analysis.  Laws of precedence informed rhetoric
only in the order and style of the address and the posture the author
took in referring to his specified audience. _Ars dictamen_ instruction
manuals surely demonstrate this fact.  These rules can be confirmed in
operation in any contemporaneous epistle where two or more persons are
addressed, for the person of highest status was always named or listed
first.  See James I's _Apology for the Oath of Allegiance_, for
instance; or the charter of the third Virginia company, in Brown,
_Genesis of the United States_, in which George Abbot, Archbishop of
Canterbury was listed first, and the rest are listed in descending
order.  Laws of precedence governed court processions, seating in the
House of Lords, seating at the king's table, seating in the revels at
the Inns of Court, seating in the court theater, and legal documents.
If you have access to the British Library and are interested in the
rules of precedence, check out

Robert Commaunder, _The Booke of Heraldrye and other thinges togither
with the order of coronations of Emperours, Kinges Princes.  A
common-place book chiefly of heraldic and historical collections by
Robert Commaundre (ob 1613)_, London, British Library Egerton MS 2642,
especially folios 3-34 and 166-194,

and

John Harrington, _Ancient Orders and Ceremonies respecting the
Processions, Funerals, Habilments of the several degrees of Noble
Estate, also the laws established for Precedency of the same, with the
Forms and Rules ordered by the King, &c a MS of Sir John Harrington
Treasurer of the Army to Kyng Henry the Eighth, and clerk of the Privie
Chamber to Q. Elizabeth 1577_, London, British Library Additional MS
27632.

These books provide ordering regimes and variations based on marital
union, royal blood, and office.  They were written by officials who
served at court under Henry VIII, Elizabeth and James, and the regimes
are recognized by them as law.

Second, as law, precedence implies the peaceful, hierarchical ordering
of society.  The victory parade of a conquering hero was ordered
according to practical military concerns. The victor rode in the chariot
behind and above the walking conquered in a position of clear tactical
advantage.  Kneeling, bowing one's head beneath the sword, prostration,
and a ship's firing all guns at the approach of a king's ship are
similar ceremonies of subjection.  Military concerns in parades became
even more complicated when two monarchs were parading together.  In
James I's and Christian IV's parade through London, for instance,
described by Henry Robarts, the parade was ordered so as to guarantee
mutually assured destruction of both kings if either tried to breach the
peace.

Third, the final couplet does not simply place Juliet first but
identifies Romeo as belonging to "her": the possessive pronoun declares
Romeo the subordinate in a relationship in which the law said, as a
fundamental principle, that the masculine partner was the superior or
_paterfamilias_ in the marriage and the female partner belonged to his
family (the reason wives take their husbands' names or are referred to
as "de" their husband's name in Spanish). According to laws of
precedence in which the gentlemen in Shakespeare's audience were
steeped, by violating the usual ordering in marriage, the prince is
indicating that the Montagues are of lesser status than the Capulets.
As Ambassadors from France and Spain often balked when the other was
place in a position of precedence in the English court, this finding, as
I mentioned before, is unlikely to result in peace.

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