Reply to post: Re: "First kill all the lawyers"

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Re: "First kill all the lawyers"

"First kill all the lawyers"

It was said by Jack Cade's follower Dick The Butcher in Shakespeare's Henry VI; it was in the midst of a harangue in which Cade lays out his, errr... social-political program.

Consider the following: "'The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers' You know the line, from Shakespeare's 'Henry VI, Part 2.' Like a mantra, it is mindlessly quoted by pundits, stenciled on T-shirts and generally marshaled as condemnation of the legal profession from the very pen of the Bard of Avon. Not only is this a gross calumny, it is a symptom of gross cultural illiteracy.[...] Dick the Butcher shouts enthusiastically, 'The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.' There it is - the phrase so frequently used to damn the legal profession, shouted by a butcher in response to an ex-convict and confidence man who was in London to foment anarchy, burn the city and loot the commonwealth. But that's not all. Cade shows us what his world would be like without lawyers. Immediately after Dick the Butcher mouths his famous line, a clerk enters. Someone accuses the clerk of being able to write and read. Cade orders, 'Hang him with his pen and inkhorn about his neck.' Yes, second thing let's do, let's kill anyone who can write or read." (

I don't know if this was an idea ever espoused by the real Jack Cade. It might not have been, as Shakespeare's account of Cade and the events surrounding him seem to be quite ahistorical.

Shakespeare wrote the line but that's not nearly enough reason to think that he espoused the idea himself. He put those words in Cade's mouth to show the audience the barbarity and ignorance of Cade and his followers.

I have also seen the quote attributed to Leon Trotsky, who might have been well-enough read to know it from a translation of Shakespeare. I do not know if Trotsky ever said it or not, but it would have been both appropriate and ironic if he had.

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