Let's kill all the lawyers

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"Let's kill all the lawyers" is a line from William Shakespeare's Henry VI, Part 2, Act IV, Scene 2. The full quote is: "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers".[1] It is among Shakespeare's most famous lines,[2] as well as one of his most controversial.[3]


Shakespeare may be making a joke when the character "Dick The Butcher" suggests one of the ways the band of pretenders to the throne can improve the country is to kill all the lawyers. Dick is a rough character like the other henchmen, a killer as evil as his name implies,[1] and this is his rough solution to his perceived societal problem.[4]

The line has been interpreted in different ways: criticism of how lawyers maintain the privilege of the wealthy and powerful; implicit praise of how lawyers stand in the way of violent mobs; and criticism of bureaucracy and perversions of the rule of law.[5]


JACK CADE. Valiant I am.

SMITH [aside]. A must needs; for beggary is valiant.

JACK CADE. I am able to endure much.

DICK [aside]. No question of that; for I have seen him whipp'd three market-days together.

JACK CADE. I fear neither sword nor fire.

SMITH [aside]. He need not fear the sword; for his coat is of proof.

DICK [aside]. But methinks he should stand in fear of fire, being burnt i' th' hand for stealing of sheep.

JACK CADE. Be brave, then; for your captain is brave, and vows reformation. There shall be in England seven half-penny loaves sold for a penny: the three-hoop'd pot shall have ten hoops; and I will make it felony to drink small beer: all the realm shall be in common; and in Cheapside shall my palfrey go to grass: and when I am king,– as king I will be,–

ALL. God save your majesty!

JACK CADE. I thank you, good people:– there shall be no money; all shall eat and drink on my score; and I will apparel them all in one livery, that they may agree like brothers, and worship me their lord.

DICK. The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.

JACK CADE. Nay, that I mean to do. Is not this a lamentable thing, that of the skin of an innocent lamb should be made parchment, that parchment, being scribbl'd o'er, should undo a man? Some say the bee stings; but I say 'tis the bee's wax, for I did but seal once to a thing, and I was never mine own man since.


  1. ^ a b "Henry VI, part 2: Entire Play". shakespeare.mit.edu. Retrieved 2016-02-29.
  2. ^ "Henry VI (Part 2) the play by William Shakespeare". www.william-shakespeare.info. Retrieved 2016-03-01.
  3. ^ Gershman, Jacob. "To Kill or Not to Kill All the Lawyers? That Is the Question". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved 2016-03-01.
  4. ^ ""The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers" - it's a lawyer joke". www.spectacle.org. Retrieved 2016-03-01.
  5. ^ Kornstein, Daniel (1994). Kill All the Lawyers?: Shakespeare's Legal Appeal. Princeton University Press. pp. 26–34. ISBN 0-8032-7821-7.