Was Hamlet Guilty of Murder?

"Was Hamlet crazy when he killed Polonius?" 

We’ve had a lot of fun over the years in connecting the theater to the political world of Washington. A few years ago, maybe more than 10, 12 years ago, we started something called the Mock Trial in which the issue from a play is argued by two opposing lawyers, two different sides, and heard by a bench of judges. And it’s always one or two Supreme Court Justices and some Federal Appeals Judges.  And the two lawyers are usually very important people.


The first one we did was "Was Hamlet crazy when he killed Polonius?"  We held that in the Supreme Court itself, not in the major chambers, but in another, smaller room.  We now hold them at the theater because they’re so successful we needed 800 seats instead of 400.  The first one was argued by two lawyers who at that time were counsel for the President.  And they argued one for the fact that Hamlet was insane and one that Hamlet was not. And the only evidence you could use was the text.  You could go anywhere you wanted. You didn’t have to pretend it was Ellsinore in the 1400s.  You could talk about anything.

And they argued very well.  And Justice Kennedy was the presiding judge and Justice Ginsberg was on the jury. She wanted to be on the jury.  There were a lot of other people on the jury.  And the arguments started by the defendant judge, that is Hamlet’s defense judge, saying, you know, people said he was crazy; they quoted lines from the play; and the quotes are very funny but they’re very clever.  They worked really hard these lawyers.  And the other lawyer tried to use the Twinkie defense because it was during the time of the Menendez brothers, and how he said they had eaten junk food and Hamlet had eaten junk food and too much Red Dye No. 2.  

Anyway, so the trial was over and the jury went out.  When they came back with Justice Ginsberg leading the jury, as the foreman of the jury, she said that "We find Hamlet guilty of the murder of Polonius, and we also want to add that he should be indicted for the murder of Ophelia."  And she felt that was such an unfeminist statement in the play and Hamlet had ruined Ophelia’s life.

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock. 

Related Articles

Scientists discover what caused the worst mass extinction ever

How a cataclysm worse than what killed the dinosaurs destroyed 90 percent of all life on Earth.

Credit: Ron Miller
Surprising Science

While the demise of the dinosaurs gets more attention as far as mass extinctions go, an even more disastrous event called "the Great Dying” or the “End-Permian Extinction” happened on Earth prior to that. Now scientists discovered how this cataclysm, which took place about 250 million years ago, managed to kill off more than 90 percent of all life on the planet.

Keep reading Show less

Why we're so self-critical of ourselves after meeting someone new

A new study discovers the “liking gap” — the difference between how we view others we’re meeting for the first time, and the way we think they’re seeing us.

New acquaintances probably like you more than you think. (Photo by Simone Joyner/Getty Images)
Surprising Science

We tend to be defensive socially. When we meet new people, we’re often concerned with how we’re coming off. Our anxiety causes us to be so concerned with the impression we’re creating that we fail to notice that the same is true of the other person as well. A new study led by Erica J. Boothby, published on September 5 in Psychological Science, reveals how people tend to like us more in first encounters than we’d ever suspect.

Keep reading Show less

NASA launches ICESat-2 into orbit to track ice changes in Antarctica and Greenland

Using advanced laser technology, scientists at NASA will track global changes in ice with greater accuracy.

Firing three pairs of laser beams 10,000 times per second, the ICESat-2 satellite will measure how long it takes for faint reflections to bounce back from ground and sea ice, allowing scientists to measure the thickness, elevation and extent of global ice
popular

Leaving from Vandenberg Air Force base in California this coming Saturday, at 8:46 a.m. ET, the Ice, Cloud, and Land Elevation Satellite-2 — or, the "ICESat-2" — is perched atop a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket, and when it assumes its orbit, it will study ice layers at Earth's poles, using its only payload, the Advance Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS).

Keep reading Show less