The Law in Hamlet: Episode 2 with Tom Regnier

Can the intricacies of Elizabethan Law shed new light on the tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark?

In this fascinating interview with attorney Tom Regnier, we look at how Shakespeare uses the law in the plays and Sonnets, why scholars and lawyers have claimed that Shakespeare had legal training, and — surprisingly — how themes of English law run throughout the play Hamlet. The examination of early modern English law offers unexpected insights into Hamlet’s madness, Ophelia’s breakdown and burial, and the infamously tempestuous relationship between Hamlet and his mother, Queen Gertrude.

In the episode, we hear “the most densely legal passage in Shakespeare,” which is found not in The Merchant of Venice or Measure for Measure but in Hamlet (and even involves a skull!).  We look at how the changing laws of England reflect the Medieval mindset as it transitions to a way of viewing the world that is quite familiar to us today.  Tom Regnier also addresses the Shakespeare authorship question, and considers some aspects of the Oxfordian/Edward De Vere theory as they touch on the law and Hamlet.

 

Recommended Reading

Books and articles for further exploration:

 

Tom Regnier
Tom Regnier

Tom Regnier  is an attorney and teacher who currently works in the Appellate Division of the Public Defender’s Office in Miami. He holds law degrees from Columbia Law School in New York and the University of Miami School of Law, both with honors. He has taught at the University of Miami School of Law (including a course on Shakespeare and the Law) and The John Marshall Law School in Chicago. His scholarly articles on the law have appeared in such publications as NYU Journal of Legislation and Public PolicySanta Clara Law ReviewAkron Law Review, and UMKC Law Review. His article on the law in Hamlet appears in the Fall 2011 issue of Brief Chronicles and in the forthcoming Oxfordian edition of Hamlet, edited by Jack Shuttleworth. Tom is President of the Shakespeare Fellowship, and has been active in theatre, performing in seven Shakespeare plays.

His articles on the law, including the law in Shakespeare’s works, can be accessed at https://sites.google.com/site/thomasregnier/.

Special thanks to actor Allan G. Armstrong for Hamlet’s Skull of a Lawyer speech.

Theme Music is “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by DoKashiteru (feat. Snoman, yacou, AGFX, suonho) via ccmixter.org under a Creative Commons license: Creative Commons / CC BY 3.0

 

"Go not to my uncle's bed." Russian actors as the Prince and his mother, 1911.
“Go not to my uncle’s bed.” Russian actors as the Prince and his mother, 1911.
"Why may not that be the skull of a lawyer?" Charles Fechter as Hamlet, 1872.
“Why may not that be the skull of a lawyer?” Charles Fechter as Hamlet, 1872.
“Make her grave straight. The crowner hath sat on her, and finds it Christian burial.” Pascal Adolphe Jean Dagnan-Bouveret, Hamlet and the Gravediggers, 1883.