Duffy, Kevin Thomas, Marvin E. Frankel, Stephen Gillers, Norman L. Greene, Daniel J. Kornstein, and Jeanne A. Roberts. The Elsinore Appeal: People v. Hamlet. St. Martin's P: New York, 1996.


Complete with legal jargon and New York law codes, this text works with the hypothetical scenario that Hamlet does not die but has been imprisoned for his crimes and is now filing appeals. The Appellant's Brief presents the defense's arguments: Laertes' death was in self-defense; Polonius' death was the result of "defense of justification"; because Ophelia ended the relationship, Hamlet is not responsible for her suicide; the court has no jurisdiction over Rosencrantz's and Guildenstern's deaths; in the death of Claudius, Hamlet "acted properly in bringing a murderer to justice"; and Hamlet's "diminished mental capacity" and status of sovereignty require "reversal on all counts" (2). The prosecution responds to these arguments in the Appellee's Brief: rather than remove himself from the threat, as the law requires, Hamlet knowingly and intentionally used a lethal weapon against Laertes; Polonius posed no danger or threat but was murdered; "Hamlet's manslaughter conviction for 'recklessly' causing Ophelia's death should be affirmed"; because Rosencrantz's and Guildenstern's executions were initiated on a Danish vessel, Denmark has jurisdiction over the murders; Hamlet's murder of Claudius is the act of a "serial killer," not justice; and Hamlet is not a sovereign (Fortinbras is king) nor has he met the "burden of proving insanity" (12). The defense replies to these counter arguments and suggests a political agenda to keep "Fortinbras' only rival" imprisoned for life (27). On October 11, 1994, both sides present their arguments before the court at the Association of the Bar of the City of New York. The lively debate is heard by a panel of judges: Jeanne Roberts (Shakespearean scholar), Kevin Duffy (U. S. District Judge), and Marvin Frankel (former U. S. District Judge). Although no rulings are passed, the courtroom dialogue presents an interesting introduction into the text of Hamlet.

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Jenkins, Ronald Bradford. “The Case Against the King: The Family of Ophelia vs. His Majesty King Claudius of Denmark.” Journal of Evolutionary Psychology 17.3-4 (Aug. 1996): 206-18.


Narrated by the attorney representing Ophelia’s family, this essay presents the jurors (a.k.a. readers) with evidence that King Claudius seduced, impregnated, and murdered Ophelia. First, the prosecution establishes the King’s character for the court: Claudius is capable of murdering his brother, of plotting to kill his nephew/son-in-law, and of seducing his sister-in-law/wife. Although Ophelia is praised by several respected “character witnesses” (e.g., Campbell, Vischer, Coleridge, Johnson, Hazlitt, Jameson) (208), evidence emerges that Ophelia was not a chaste virgin. For example, Polonius and Laertes feel the need to warn Ophelia about protecting her chastity, and, in response to their cautions, “Her lack of indignation is puzzling” (209). According to the prosecution, Ophelia’s lack of chastity leads to her impregnation by Claudius. Hamlet and Gertrude learn about the scandalous pregnancy, and both shun the young girl. But Ophelia and her unborn child pose threats to the throne. Adopting the disguise of madness (like Hamlet), Ophelia uses sing-song ramblings and symbolic flowers to accuse her seducer. Claudius responds by ordering two men to follow her, and then she suddenly drowns, “accidentally.” Aside from the Queen’s enthusiasm to report the death of her rival, the description of events reveals that Ophelia’s garland was another attempt to accuse Claudius with symbolic flowers; also, the cumbersome clothes that drown Ophelia seem out of place for the warm season but appropriate for the concealment of her pregnancy. Aware of the unborn child, the church grudgingly provides a grave-side service for the unwed mother. In closing arguments, the attorney articulates Claudius’ motives for murdering Ophelia and “begs simply that justice be done” (218).

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Wilson, Luke. “Hamlet, Hales V. Petit, and the Hysteresis of Action.” ELH 60.1 (Spring 1993): 17-55. <http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0013-8304%28199321%2960%3A1%3C17%3AHHVPAT%3E2.0.CO%3B2-N_gt; 20 Feb. 2002.


In response to attacks that new historicism lacks “an adequate account of agency and action” (17), this article counters “that Hamlet and Renaissance legal discourse seem to anticipate a post-structuralist hysteresis of action” by attempting “to reconsider the structure of action in Hamlet and to account for the ways conceptualizations of action moved between legal and theatrical fields” (22). Hamlet’s groundwork with The Mousetrap provides a key example of the theatrical action structure: in soliloquy, Hamlet announces his new-found plan—after setting it in motion with the players. The theatrical necessities of informing the audience about motives behind The Mousetrap and of getting Hamlet alone on stage to provide the soliloquy force “the intrusion of the temporal logic of compositional activity into the temporality of dramatic representation” (25). The resulting structure of action is organized by an “entanglement of prospective and retrospective, since it is in retrospection that the prospective is constituted as such, that is, since the teleological structure of intentional action entails a retroactive element” (25). “The legal analysis of action finds its way into Hamlet in the form of structures and concepts immanent in a shared rhetoric of action” (28). The Elizabethan period marked an “increase in the sophistication of legal conceptualizations of intention” (31). For example, in the Hales vs. Petit case (the gravedigger’s source for arguments determining Ophelia’s cause of death), the court retrospectively examined the evidence of a drowning/suicide to hypothesize intention and to determine liability. In this way, theater and law shared “the temporal folding that structures action” (34) and the “fictionalizations of intention” (31). “The increasingly litigious and legalistic culture in which Hamlet was produced made the means to manipulate accounts of intentional action widely available for use in both inculpatory and exculpatory schemes, at the same time that new market forces—both produced by and enabling this culture—led to conceptualizations of person that tended to frustrate the business of linking actions to agents” (44).

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This website is for educational purposes.
All information Copyright © 2002-2007 Harmonie Blankenship
Contact the author at h.blankenship@hamlethaven.com