Did Shakespeare Really Hate Lawyers?

Did Shakespeare Really Hate Lawyers?

Share this

I confess, I’m a bardolater.  When I’m not blogging or representing one of my clients in Immigration Court or Tax Court, it’s a good bet you’ll find me reading something to do with Shakespeare.

Now how does Shakespeare find his way onto a lawyer’s blog? I’m glad you asked.

It’s because of this line in King Henry VI:

The first thing we do, lets kill all the lawyers.

Just about everyone I know assumes that this famous line, spoken by Dick the Butcher (one of Shakespeare more simplistic and unmemorable villains), is an expression of Shakespeare’s personal disdain for lawyers. Of course, it is nothing of the kind.

(How absurd it would be if every word Shakespeare put into his characters mouths was an expression of his own personal views?).

In Henry VI, Shakespeare’s Dick the butcher is a dimwitted follower of John Cade, the leader of a band of rebels bent on overthrowing the King (see Jack Cade’s Rebellion). In short, the aptly named Dick is neither a smart nor good man.

Now think about it. Why would Shakespeare have a dumb, bad guy say “kill all the lawyers” if he, himself, loathed lawyers?

Well, he wouldn’t.

The obvious answer is that Shakespeare believed that lawyers were protectors of law and order – the good guys. Naturally, then, Dick the butcher would want to butcher the lawyers so he, Jack and their gang of thugs could continue to rape and plunder the country folk.

And this is precisely what they do – both in history and in Shakespeare’s play.

The line “the first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers” is, therefore, a complement compliment to lawyers.

The Ethical Spectacle said it better than I ever could,

The first thing we do, 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.


As the famous remark by the plotter of treachery in Shakespeare’s King Henry VI shows – “The first thing we must do is kill all the lawyers,” – the surest way to chaos and tyranny even then was to remove the guardians of independent thinking.

I am quite certain this post will resolve the issue once and for all.

And I just bought a wonderful tract of oceanfront property located in Boise, Idaho!

About Peter Pappas

Peter is a tax attorney and certified public acccountant with over 20 years experience helping taxpayers resolve their IRS and state tax problems.

He has represented thousands of taxpayers who have been experiencing difficulty dealing with the Internal Revenue Service or State tax officials.

He is a member of the American Association of Attorney-Certified Public Accountants, the Florida Bar Association and The Florida Institute of Certified Public Accountants and is admitted to practice before the United States Tax Court, the United States Supreme Court, U.S. District Courts - Middle District of Florida

Did you enjoy this article?

Subscribe by e-mail and get notified whenever new ones are published.



  1. It should be “compliment”!

  2. This is great. Look for a track back in my Passing the week this Sunday.

  3. Jay, no, I actually meant that Shakespeare meant to “ketchup” lawyers.

    Ha ha!

    Thanks for the correction.

  4. Bruce (the tax guy), thank you.

  5. You Lie!
    If you examine the context of Henry VI, Shakespeare intended to insult lawyers. “Far from “eliminating those who might stand in the way of a contemplated revolution” or portraying lawyers as “guardians of independent thinking”, it’s offered as the best feature imagined of yet for utopia. It’s hilarious. A very rough and simplistic modern translation would be “When I’m the King, there’ll be two cars in every garage, and a chicken in every pot” “AND NO LAWYERS”. It’s a clearly lawyer-bashing joke.

  6. The whole explanation can be found here:

    Is obvious that trying to save lawyer’s prestige, the lawyer that posted here, took everything out of context.
    Bad sophistry for a lawyer

  7. elias,

    Thanks for visiting.

    I agree with the Ethical Spectacle that Shakespeare did not think ill of lawyers.

    I suggest you re-read the article I linked to and, even better, read King Henry VI.

    By the way, the phrase “bad sophistry” is redundant. There is no such thing as good sophistry.

  8. elias,

    Thanks for reading my entire blog. It’s nice to have loyal followers.

    By the way, I don’t lie, Maureen Dowd does.

    And you are wrong about the Shakespeare line about killing all the lawyers. Shakespeare loved lawyers more than he loved the Dark Lady.

    For a small fee I would be more than happy to give you a brief tutorial on how to read and understand Shakespeare.

    By the way, when you shyster non-lawyers stop screwing over other non-lawyers, we won’t need lawyers anymore.

    I won’t hold my breath.

  9. tporenstein says:

    You should submit your discussion of the qoute to Wikipedia. They have a minimal explanation, which should be improved.

  10. tporenstein,

    Thanks. I think I will.

  11. JoAnn Keen says:

    Seasoned paralegal with a love of Shakespeare and witty repartee believes elias’ argument possesses no merit and wonders why anyone ever thought tax attorneys were insufferable bores.

    p.s. strike “witty” as redundant

  12. JoAnn,

    We’re actually “sufferable” bores.

    Thanks for visiting and commenting.

  13. He was half right.He should have said Let’s kill all the Lawyers,and lets kill all the BAD one’s tonight.HA.

  14. Dave,

    When you sleazy non-lawyers stop screwing over other sleazy-non-lawyers, we won’t need lawyers anymore. Ha!