Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0173. Wednesday, 2 March 1994.
Date: Wednesday, March 2, 1994
Subject: "Trial of Hamlet"
[FYI: The following appeared in *The Washington Post*, Saturday, February 26,
Backstage: "To Be or Not to Be Guilty"
By: Kara Swisher and Joe Brown
Since the world's best-known ditherer could never decide, it's time to bring
in a higher authority. Shakespeare's troubled Prince of Denmark will finally
get his day in court--literally--when Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy
presides over the "Trial of Hamlet" next month.
As part of this year's dinner party of the Shakespeare Theatre's Lawyer's
Committee on March 17, Kennedy will preside over a jury trial--litigated by
top-flight Washington attorneys--to determine whether Hamlet was insane when
he murdered Polonius.
The idea came from Kennedy, who is a big Shakespeare buff. Sources working on
the trial said he spends much of his minimal free time these days
orchestrating the event, and many lower-level lawyers around town are busy
researching the insanity defense.
"Hamlet is really caught in a coil of fascinating and deeply conflicted
emotions, and his most interesting riddle is his deeper motivation," says
Kennedy about his favorite Shakespearean tragic figure. "We learn more about
ourselves if we learn about Hamlet." Hamlet's murder of Polonius was selected
for the trial, he says, because "perhaps there are some better legal defenses
to the other murders that he commits."
Maryland law will be used in the trial, which will take place over about three
hours in one of the rooms at the Supreme Court, where the fund-raising dinner
will also be held. The jury will be selected from the 170 guests, who are
local lawyers who support the Bard and his local theatrical venue. And
considering the White House's own propensity for intrigues, perhaps it's not
surprising that three of the six lawyers chosen for the case have served as
counsels for Presidents Carter, Reagan and Clinton.
Since there's no doubt that Hamlet did in fact kill Polonius, says Kennedy,
the only question is his state of mind. So the only "record" used will be the
text of the play and the only witnesses will be competing psychiatrists (a
more modern twist).
"Hamlet will not testify, because an actor would have too much control over
how the thing comes out, with inflections, intonations and mood," says
Kennedy. "Anyway, we already have one of the best transcripts around from one
of the world's most famous writers."
Who, by the way, also scripted the line, "The first thing we do, let's kill
all the lawyers." But, Kennedy promises, that won't be held against Hamlet.