Let specialties be drawn between us: Shakespeare on contract drafting

IP Draughts has just returned from watching a very entertaining production of Taming of the Shrew by the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford upon Avon.

The lawyer in IP Draughts couldn’t help picking up on a couple of lines in the text.  After hearing that Kate’s father will give a generous dowry if Petruchio marries her, Petruchio declares:

Let specialties be therefore drawn between us,
	That covenants may be kept on either hand.

See Act 2 Scene 1 lines 126-7.  Black’s Law Dictionary (seventh edition) confirms at page 320 that specialty is an old name for a contract under seal. As IP Draughts has previously commented, the modern name in English law for a contract under seal is a contract executed as a deed.  Thus Petruchio is asking for a pre-nuptial agreement to be drafted in the form of a deed.

Regrettably, IP Draughts’ knowledge of English matrimonial law in 1590 (the year Taming of the Shrew was written) does not extend to the legal formalities for a marriage settlement.  This article provides an interesting summary, but IP Draughts cannot vouch for its accuracy!

The second line quoted above refers to the parties entering into mutual covenants.  Covenant is, of course, the traditional name for an obligation in a contract under seal.

The only other legal point to be gleaned from the lines quoted above is that Shakespeare uses the traditional term “draw” for the writing of a contract.  The modern term is “draft” (or draught), which may be considered a back-formation from draw.  Occasionally, case reports still quote judges (see paragraph 28 of the judgment at the previous link) as saying that a contract is “not well drawn”, meaning that it is badly drafted, but IP Draughts considers that usage to be so old-fashioned that it can only be viewed as pretentious.

IP Draughts’ better half (let us call her the Draughtatrix) scorns IP Draughts’ focus on legal technicalities, when there is so much more to enjoy in the play.  “You need to make it bawdy”, she said.  IP Draughts’ response is to say: Act V Scene 2, lines 147-190.

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Filed under Contract drafting, General Commercial

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