On trial in Fargo courtroom: Hamlet, Macbeth


More than four centuries after his birth William Shakespeare lives on, not only in English classes but even in court.

WDAY reports judges and lawyers in Fargo spent a day devoted to Continuing Legal Education looking back at some of Shakespeare's characters through the lens of the legal system.

The station says judges from federal, state, and tribal courts heard arguments from attorneys and turned their attention Tuesday to such thorny questions as: Was Macbeth's criminal conduct the result of mental disease? Were jurors correct in rejecting Hamlet's insanity defense?

Scholars say the tales of drama and tragedy woven by the Bard of Avon echo through courtrooms even today, offering valuable lessons and insights for the legal profession.

And this is a familiar observation in legal circles.

Why, on the very day that Shakespeare's characters were debated in Fargo, a legal newspaper called the Daily Report profiled a U.S. District Court judge in Georgia who's been known to invoke Shakespeare in his rulings.

Judge Thomas Thrash tells the Daily Report that even in one of his earliest cases as a prosecutor he made reference in his closing arguments to the ghost of Hamlet's murdered father, likening the victim in the murder case he was trying to the ghost's beseeching cry, "Remember me. Remember me." Thrash won a conviction in the case.

In a Continuing Legal Education presentation of his own last year, Thrash made Shakespeare the focus of a talk illustrating professionalism, starting with the Bard's most famous quote about his profession: "First thing, let's kill all the lawyers."

What makes Shakespearean study relevant to modern court cases? Thrash says one answer is the playwright's insight into human behavior. Or misbehavior. "One of the great things about Shakespeare is his insight into why people behave badly," he says.

Last year the Boston Globe spoke with attorney Daniel Kelly, who for more than a decade has overseen an annual event called "Shakespeare and the Law." The event, put together with help from the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company, looks at what Shakespeare can teach us about legal thinking and how the themes of his plays show up in current events.

Art thou intrigued enough to reach for a book? But soft! What title through yonder website breaks?

It's "Shakespeare and the Law: A Conversation Among Disciplines and Professions."

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