Behind “kill all the lawyers”

September 24, 2006

In an otherwise informative post about a controversy over alternative certification for school administrators, at EdWize, I choked on this:

The Department leaders, Klein, Seidman and Alonso, lawyers all (perhaps Shakespeare was correct), are rigid ideologues who have alienated their work force as well as the parents of their constituents

Did you catch that? Especially the link to the Shakespeare line, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers?”

This is not exactly history we’re fisking here — it’s drama, I suppose. Still, it falls neatly into the category of debunkings, not too unlike the debunking of the story of Millard Fillmore’s bathtub.

The line from Shakespeare is accurate. It’s from Henry VI, Part II. But it’s not so much a diatribe against lawyers as it is a part of a satirical indictment of those who would overthrow government, and oppress the masses for personal gain.

It is Dick the Butcher who says the line. Jack Cade has just expressed his warped view that he should be king, after having attempted a coup d’etat and taken power, at least temporarily. Cade starts in with his big plans to reform the economy — that is, to let his friends eat cheap or free.

Dick chimes in to suggest that in the new regime, the lawyers ought to be the first to go — they protect rights of people and property rights, and such rights won’t exist in Cade’s imagined reign. Cade agrees. The purpose of killing the lawyers, then, is to perpetuate their rather lawless regime.

At that moment others in Cade’s conspiracy enter, having captured the town Clerk of Chatham. The man is put on trial for his life, accused of being able to read and keep accounts. Worse, he’s been caught instructing young boys to read. Read the rest of this entry »


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