Law in Popular Culture

'Let's kill all the lawyers' quote is popular on novelty gift items

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The quote is still generating debate, as well as novelty gift sales: “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”

At the Shakespeare Library gift shop in Washington, D.C., customers can buy a blue T-shirt with the line for $19.95, the Wall Street Journal reports. “Things with that quote on it always do well,” the manager, Matthew Frederick, tells the newspaper.

The phrase is also popular with online shoppers at websites such as Zazzle, which sells several items with the phrase, the story says.

Shakespeare’s Dick the Butcher is the character who urged the killing in Henry VI, Part 2.

Many lawyers—and Justice John Paul Stevens—say the line is intended to show how lawyers are needed to avoid tyranny. “As a careful reading of that text will reveal,” Stevens wrote in a footnote to a dissent in 1985, “Shakespeare insightfully realized that disposing of lawyers is a step in the direction of a totalitarian form of government.”

But some Shakespeare scholars say the purpose of the line is open to interpretation. Columbia University professor James Shapiro says he understands lawyers’ argument about what the line means. But he says the phrase could also be a way to illustrate the fears of civil unrest among the elite class, as well as the resentment among commoners.

Prior coverage: “What did Shakespeare think about lawyers? Panel counts the ways”

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