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September 01, 2007

"The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers"

No, this is not a post about tort reform and medical malpractice issues, but I guess it could be in a Swiftian way.

Mark Simone was interviewing Mario Cuomo just now on radio, and Mark threw in the famous quote from Shakespeare's Henry VI.

Mario responded that the line was spoken by a revolutionary, and therefore lawyers represent a stabilizing force in society, a good thing.

Here's a Web site that helps debunk the notion that this is really intended as a praise of the lawyer's role. This is from the Ethical Spectacle by Seth Finkelstein. For all I know, they might be a bunch of revolutionaries and malcontents, but the interpretation is worth reading.

Seth notes that one legal firm publishes their defense of the quote (which is very similar to Mario's) in their profile:

"The first thing we do," said the character in Shakespeare's Henry VI, is "kill all the lawyers." Contrary to popular belief, the proposal was not designed to restore sanity to commercial life. Rather, it was intended to eliminate those who might stand in the way of a contemplated revolution -- thus underscoring the important role that lawyers can play in society.

A little background is necessary. The character Jack Cade is a pretender to the throne and he's boasting how he will improve the kingdom if he were king. He says, "There shall be in England seven half-penny loaves sold for a penny: the three-hoop'd pot shall have ten hoops; and I will make it felony to drink small beer: all the realm shall be in common; and in Cheapside shall my palfrey go to grass: and when I am king,- as king I will be,-"

One of his henchmen, Dick the Butcher, then chimes in with the quip about the lawyers. The line probably brought many laughs from the audience of that time, not only because it confirms Cade and his gang are shady characters, but it must have resonated with the feelings of the ordinary people living in that society  who had to deal with the complexities of the law and the filing of documents that the lawyers had to oversee.

The same sentiment is expressed in the famous quote by Woody Guthrie: "Some will rob you with a six-gun and some with a fountain pen." 


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