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Let's kill all the lawyers

The Second Part of King Henry the Sixth, Act IV Scene 2.

In this famous Shakespeare play, there is a phrase which always comes up when people come to get at their lawyers.

JACK CADE, is a rebel, and DICK THE BUTCHER, is a follower of Cade

CADE. 'Be brave, then, for your captain is brave, and vows reformation. There shall be in England seven halfpenny 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'

ALL. 'God save your Majesty!'

CADE. 'I thank you, good people- there shall be no money; all shall eat and drink on my score, and I will apparel them all in one livery, that they may agree like brothers and worship me their lord.'

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

CADE. 'Nay, that I mean to do. Is not this a lamentable thing, that of the skin of an innocent lamb should be made parchment? That parchment, being scribbl'd o'er, should undo a man?'


What do we have here? What does it mean? Far be it from me to suggest that the words should not take their ordinary and natural meaning. 'Let's kill all the lawyers' It is a natural, common, and perhaps, a perfectly proper view.

Nevertheless, the context indicates a second meaning which has some truth. This is a group of rather rude, and brutal, chaps. They are resentful and uneducated, and discuss, in idle chit chat, taking over the world, and imposing their arbitrary personal, and particular wishes on everybody else. The first impediment to this tyranny is that group of awkward bugger, the lawyers. The point is that the law, as set down by our society in general, is there to protect individuals against exactly such arbitrary and vengeful behaviour. Lawyers can sometimes help to resolve disputes. That will often mean that someone loses. They might naturally resent their opponent's and sometimes even their own lawyer.

Convinced? No? Well ...

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

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18 October 2013 308 18 October 2013