September 22, 1598

On September 22, 1598, English playwright and director Ben Jonson was arrested and indicted for manslaughter for killing one of his actors, Gabriel Spencer, in a duel. Apparently even in 1598, actors and writers couldn’t get along very well. Gabriel Spencer was no saint, as he was known to drink heavily and become very violent without much provocation. Jonson pled guilty to the charge but was released by ‘benefit of clergy’. This was a legal ploy in England where a person (with the permission of the court) would recite a brief bible verse (fittingly named the ‘neck-verse’). He would also forfeit his ‘goods and chattel’ and be branded on his left thumb. This was much better than having his neck stretched or shortened. So, actors need to remember, the courts have sided with the writers and directors since at least 1598.

About Joel Byers

Born in North Georgia and educated at some very fine public institutions. Real education started after graduating from college and then getting married and raising two boys. Has the ability to see the funny and absurd in most things and will always remark on it, even if it means getting the stink-eye from his victims.
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