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Shakespeare Plays and Lawyers

August 14, 2015 Hastings and Hastings

Authors tend to be a bit on the eccentric side. Their ability to accurately describe the things ordinary people don’t notice makes them a shining example of human ingenuity and the capacity of the mind. Shakespeare being an author amongst authors was the best at pointing out the obvious in a clever yet precise manner. Like most authors, he had a complicated relationship with the legal profession. In fact, Shakespeare himself even considered becoming an attorney. Perhaps this is why lawyers appear in almost all his famous plays: Hamlet, Merchant at Venice, Henry VI Part II.

“Let’s Kill all the Lawyers” —Shakespeare

This is one of the most quoted Shakespeare phrases. It is also the most commonly misunderstood. This line is spoken from Dick the Butcher, a spokesman for rebel Jack Cade, who tried to become king by distorting law and order. His efforts are thwarted, however, and the hero, Henry VI, remains in power. Essentially, Shakespeare is complimenting attorneys and judges by affirming their role as the key to civil peace. If Dick the Butcher indeed succeeded in killing all the lawyers, everything would collapse into anarchy. Shakespeare actually respected the legal community and that is why The Merchant of Venice casts an attorney as the savior for the chaos that is a Shakespearian comedy.   

The Merchant of Venice

In this comedy, the main character, Antonio, is trapped into a usurious deal with a local money lender named Shylock. However, he is eventually exonerated after the rich heiress, Portia, defends him in a court caste to win Antonio back the money he deserves, and consequently, his freedom. He then sails off in the sunset with female lawyer Portia. Obviously, if Shakespeare really wanted to kill all the lawyers he wouldn’t have portrayed them in such a positive light.