Picking up where Shakespeare left off…
What if Richard III had to stand trial for war crimes? What if Brutus were charged with Caesar’s murder? How would they fare in our current legal system?
Our previous mock trials have seen as the defendant:
- Richard III
Inspired by the efforts of former Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Society occasionally stages mock trials of Shakespearean characters for a greater appreciation of the plays through the device of courtroom drama. By this process, a chosen play is essentially taken apart, and its events reconstructed according to two differing viewpoints, the prosecution and the defense. For these scripted proceedings, we recruit real-life attorneys and seek to adhere as much as possible to the recognized rules of evidence and to current trial practices. Local actors play the roles of key witnesses, their testimony drawn largely from the texts of the plays, with the actors maintaining Elizabethan grammar throughout.
For our first trial, in September 2016, Prince Hamlet was prosecuted for the murder of the courtier Polonius in Act III. Queen Gertrude was called as the eyewitness to the killing committed by her son in her bedchamber. Also, Hamlet’s uncle, King Claudius described his nephew’s strange behavior leading up to the killing. And at the end, the defendant himself took the stand to explain how he felt threatened in Elsinore Castle and how, upon hearing someone shouting behind the curtain, he naturally assumed his mother had lured him there to be killed by his usurping uncle. Consequently, he argued that he had acted in reasonable self-defense.
In September 2017, we chose “The Tempest” as our matter in controversy. We began with the premise that after the return to civilization, Prospero is accused of employing sorcery to intercept King Alonso’s ship and of mentally torturing the survivors while stranded on the island. Specific charges are brought for piracy, witchcraft, and false imprisonment. The former Duke, though, claimed the defense of necessity in seeking to escape the island with his daughter, a situation those prosecuting him caused in the first place by exiling him. Caliban and Ferdinand were called as witnesses to the brutality of Prospero. Miranda and Prospero testified to the desperate straits that they endured on the island. An expert witness was even called to distinguish white magic from black magic.
In September 2018, our assumption was that King Richard III survived the Battle of Bosworth Field and was brought back to London to stand trial for the murders of various noblemen and of his two nephews in the Tower. Elizabeth Woodville and Lord Stanley testified to the defendant’s fiendish acts. The defense argued that Richard acted properly and expediently in executing traitors who sought to initiate a coup d’état against him, the rightful ruler. As to his nephews, he disclaimed any knowledge of their ultimate fate and pointed instead to an alternative suspect in the person of King Henry VII, who possessed both motive and opportunity to eliminate the rival Yorkist claimants.
For the future, we intend to mine other Shakespeare plays. Eventually, we may seek to hold Iago liable for the intentional infliction of emotion distress on Othello. Portia from “The Merchant of Venice” may have to answer for impersonating an officer of the court. In our immediate future, however, we plan to have Brutus captured alive at the Battle of Philippi and face a military tribunal in the field for the assassination of Julius Caesar.
We certainly welcome any attorneys or court buffs who wish to be involved in these projects. If you are so intrigued, please contact Gordon Gidlund, our Director of Mock Trials, at firstname.lastname@example.org.