3/18/07

Is He to Be Guilty, Or Not to Be Guilty?

Is He to Be Guilty, Or Not to Be Guilty? - washingtonpost.com

Hamlet of Denmark stood trial yesterday for the murder of Polonius. The evidence, of course, is clear that he did, in fact, stab the man to death. The verdict of this trial was to decide whether the Danish prince was of sound mind and able to stand trial for his actions.
The facts of the case are well known: During a heated argument with his mother in her bedchamber (for those following the transcript: See Act 3, Scene 4), Hamlet hears a voice from behind an arras, or wall hanging, draws his dagger and, before bothering to identify the source, stabs at it through the fabric.

The lawyers resourcefully looked for support at the crime scene. To Crier, for instance, Hamlet's first utterance after killing Polonius -- responding "Nay, I know not" to his mother's "What hast thou done?" -- suggested a psychic breakdown, a lack of control over his actions.
"The Trial of Hamlet," as it was called, was actually put together by none other than Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy along with the Shakespeare Theatre Company. Several real lawyers and real psychiatrists were called to the trial to investigate the sanity of Hamlet while Justice Kennedy presided as judge.

The verdict? . . . it was a tie. Out of the three high school students, three college students and six local arts donors that made up the jury, 6 named him sane while 6 voted that he suffered from schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type.
Sitting on the Eisenhower Theater stage under a towering portrait of Shakespeare, Kennedy told Joshua Drew, the young actor playing the sullen defendant, that the verdict "leaves us no choice but to remand you to the pages of our literary heritage."