I get asked about this one every now and then, here is a very interesting take on what Shakespeare wrote from Howard Nations’ website:
Ironically, the rallying cry of the lawyer bashers has become Shakespeare’s quote from Henry VI: “THE FIRST THING WE DO, LET’S KILL ALL THE LAWYERS.”
Those who use this phrase pejoratively against lawyers are as miserably misguided about their Shakespeare as they are about the judicial system which they disdain so freely.
Even a cursory reading of the context in which the lawyer killing statement is made in King Henry VI, Part II, (Act IV), Scene 2, reveals that Shakespeare was paying great and deserved homage to our venerable profession as the front line defenders of democracy.
The accolade is spoken by Dick the Butcher, a follower of anarchist Jack Cade, whom Shakespeare depicts as “the head of an army of rabble and a demagogue pandering to the ignorant,” who sought to overthrow the government. Shakespeare’s acknowledgment that the first thing any potential tyrant must do to eliminate freedom is to “kill all the lawyers” is, indeed, a classic and well-deserved compliment to our distinguished profession.