‘The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers!’

The Social Historian

Out of all of Shakespeare’s lines, we can be pretty sure that few – if any – got as big a cheer as this one.

The play is Henry VI part 2, the context is the popular rebellion by Jack Cade in 1450. The line is spoken by ‘Dick the Butcher’, one of Jack’s henchmen, and it’s part of a series of utopian promises offered by the rebel ‘when I am king – as king I will be’.

But, it’s also a line – and a joke – that is seeping with irony.

First of all, there’s the audience. In London,, playgoing was almost certainly very popular with, who else, but lawyers. In fact, the city was filled with intelligent young men, who’d moved there in their late teens and early twenties, to study at the Inns of Court. These were exactly the kind of young and boisterous lads…

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