Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Brush Up Your Shakespeare

To Be or Not To Be...Paul

I'm giving space today to David Giacalone's blog, f/k/a on the Harvard Law School blog space. In lawspeak, "F/K/A" means "formerly known as."

In a recent post, Mr. Giacalone takes this naked scrivener to task for misrepresenting Shakespeare and regurgitating Bar Association propaganda. Herewith, the pertinent portions of the item,"Et Tu Solomon: More Bull About Shakespeare and Lawyers":

Twice this past month, f/k/a has plugged “Kill all the Lawyers,” which is from the Solomon vs. Law series, by author and former lawyer Paul Levine. Last night, we were about to finish reading the book — and planning to tell our readers how much we enjoyed it — when the following dialogue (at 225) gave the entire Gang a giant case of agita/tsuris:

“More lawyer tricks?” [bad-guy, talk-show psychologist Dr. William] Kreeger said. “Technicalities and obfuscations. No wonder Shakespeare said, “‘Let’s kill all the lawyers.’”

“Shakespeare had a villain say that,” Steve replied, miraculously remembering a long-ago English Lit class at the U. “Dick the Butcher said it in a play, one of the Henrys. His pals were planning to overthrow the government, so the first thing they planned was to kill the lawyers to make the job easier. You’re misconstruing the line, just like you’re mischaracterizing my sister.”

“More legalese?” Kreeger taunted him. “More fine print and sleight of hand. Yes, indeed. Let’s kill all the lawyers before they kill all of us.”

I hate to side with the evil, pedophile-murderer, but Dr. Kreeger is absolutely correct: lawyer Solomon is obfuscating, and — actually — using some rather clumsy sleight-of-hand. Furthermore, Solomon didn’t get his mis-information from an English Literature course.

He got it straight from the propaganda playbook of bar associations across the United States. The Bar has been telling everyone who will listen (and especially themselves) that the sentence “First thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” [King Henry VI, Part II, IV, ii] demonstrates Shakespeare’s unshakable recognition of the important role lawyers play in maintaining the rule of law and the fruits of civilization. They argue that unruly rebels want to kill lawyers first, because it is the most effective step toward bringing down the Government and uprooting society.

There’s one problem, neither the play itself nor English history supports the legal profession’s interpretation of Shakespeare. First, the conversation between Jack Cade and Dick the Butcher is not a discussion on how to plot to win a rebellion against lawful government. Quite the opposite, Cade is proclaiming what he will do “when I am king, — as king I will be.” When Butcher yells out that the first thing he wants done is to kill all the lawyers, Cade responds, “Nay, that I mean to do,” and laments “I was never mine own man” since signing a contract [”scribbled” on parchment by a lawyer and sealed with bee’s wax].

Clearly, author, and former lawyer, Paul Levine should know better. His novels and other writings are well-researched and realistic. Either Levine never bothered to take a look at what Shakespeare actually said, or he so badly wanted to take lawyers off the hook that he was willing to swallow the specious argument of his colleagues at the Bar and to recklessly pass along their claim despite its frivolous nature.

It’s one thing for our protagonist Steve Solomon to manipulate facts to persuade judges, opposing counsel or juries. Among “Solomon’s Laws,” you will find, for example:

“Lying to judges is preferable to lying to the woman you love.”

“Thous shalt not screw your own client . . . unless thou hast a damn good reason.”

“A creative lawyer considers a judge’s order a mere suggestion.” and,

“I won’t lie to a lawyer’s face or stab him in the back, but if I have the chance, I’ll look him in the eye and kick him in the cojones.

But, it is totally unacceptable to make a statement that is clearly meant to manipulate and mislead his readers.

Yikes! Okay, let me confess. I don't know diddly about Henry VI. But I sure don't want "to take lawyers off the hook." I like to put lawyers on the hook and skewer them!

But maybe I swallowed the Bar Association propaganda. Dozens of times over the years, I have read the Dick the Butcher explanation that Steve Solomon gives in the book. Then again, Solomon is not that well-versed in Shakespeare, either.

What's your reading experience? Can you think of any authors -- other than this whipped dog of a naked scribbler -- who get their facts (or interpretations) arguably wrong? Have you ever made a mistake in your own writing?



  1. Oh boy. For a guy expousing realism I've made several big ones.

    In Field of Fire I had the ATF using Glocks as duty weapons. In fact they are issued Sig Sauers. It may not seem like much to some readers but I heard from ATF agents and gun nuts alike.

    Little things like that take away from what a writer is trying to achieve.

    As far as the complaint about you misquoting The Bard. He makes an argument for killing all the lawyers.


  2. Somehow I think the guy had a bee in his proverbial bonnet for a long time about this oft-quoted Shakespeare line and you offered him the perfect opportunity to vent. One question: was he serious?

    As for me, I never make mistakes in my books...just joking.

  3. Is this guy a lawyer or a literary professor? Kill all the professors, I say!

    I'm not sure the interpretation, as he explains it, actually changes. They still seem to be arguing that killing the lawyers will allow them to get their own way... or maybe it's the other way around, if they get to have their own way the first thing they'll do is kill all the lawyers. Hmmm...

    Maybe he needs to buy copies of your book for all members of the bar and they can go on the Legal Channel and argue it for a couple weeks.

  4. 1. Jim, I thought Sig Sauer was a comedian in the Catskills.

    2. Patty, I think Mr. Giacalone was serious, but in a good-hearted way.

    3. Mark, I agree. Every lawyer must buy (retail) the book.

  5. “Let’s Kill All the Lawyers” and Other Insights from the Bard: Shakespeare’s multi-layered commentary on the law, by Teresa Nichols

  6. Thank you for posting your Errata Notice here at this lively weblog, Paul. Sadly, not enough of the public you led astray will see it here.

    I am certainly not a professor (and didn't have to be one to read the text and do the historical research); I'm a retired lawyer who has always tried to keep that profession honest. So, yes, I have had a "bee in my bonnet" on this topic (since I first saw a bar association president's op/ed piece in a newspaper making the claim, a decade ago), and was seriously unhappy to see a popular protagonist spreading the misinformation. Of course, I'm glad Paul realized I was also having fun. I still want to see Victoria Lord set Steve Solomon straight on this topic.

    My longer piece on this topic can be found at Shakespeare and Lawyers.

    Meanwhile, I'm trying really hard to come up with a mistake I made in public in print. My pesky Boomer-Braino Syndrome is making it impossible to recall any such episodes right now.

    Thanks again for your gracious response.

  7. My friend, attorney guy Fred Gottfried, had that quote on a sort of roll-up shade in his office, he told me. He only pulled it down when he thought his clients could dig it. JEEZUS Mr. Giacalone, perhaps, maybe you're a wee tad too wound up about stuff that doesn't matter, don't we think? (Reminds me of my friend who's gotten into screaming matches with folks over "lox" v "nova". No, I'm not kidding.)

    a) i don't CARE what the frappin' ATF uses and wonder often why readers like that don't have fuller, richer lives. Sigh. I know it matters but sheesh, let go! Did it change the book, James? No. Did it change anything ABOUT the crime, the ATF or how the story went? I'm guessing, um, no.

    b) The above-named Fred Gottfried once attended a convention where they handed him the name badge that read "Fred Gottfreid". He gave it back saying "it's f-r-i-e-d" so they retyped it. Yep.
    "Fried Gottfreid." He wore it proudly.

    Hey, it was a science fiction convention. Anything goes on name badges there. I've spent charming conversations with "Thog from Under the Hill" (ok, exaggerating a tad but really truly honest, I've known some fans for years by fannish or SCA names and not known their "real" names.)

    Mr. Giacalone? I'm a 55 year old with a Master's Degree. I can read. I can read good. I read lots of stuff including Shakespeare. i do not feel as if this guy "led me astray" and I'm really happy you're not my attorney.
    To quote someone I NEVER quote (Bill Murray, honesttogod) Lighten UP, Francis.

    Signed sincerely,
    Not Exactly Scarred for Life