Should Shakespeare Now Read "First We Kill All the Accountants"?

By Goldman, Paul | The National Public Accountant, September 2002 | Go to article overview

Should Shakespeare Now Read "First We Kill All the Accountants"?


Goldman, Paul, The National Public Accountant


Following the Enron, WorldCom and Arthur Andersen scandals, and the press releases from the FASB, I now believe even the English professors at Oxford University will finally accept my thesis: William Shakespeare's immortal line about the legal profession was originally aimed at accountants but altered after his death. I refer, of course, to what Dick the Butcher is allegedly said to have told Jack Cade in Act 4, Scene 2 of King Henry VI (Part 2): "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers!" Admittedly, even 400 years, later, audiences still roar approval as the line is uttered, elated at such a beguiling thought--a life without lawyers, which of course would mean a world without politicians. "It is the mind that makes the body rich," said the Bard in The Taming of the Shrew. In the United States, where 1 in every 200 people is a lawyer, such thoughts are still inspiring.

Why would Shakespeare, the greatest social commentator in the English-speaking world, believe lawyers, and not accountants, to be the bane of our existence? Indeed, Dick the Butcher's declaration comes in response to the line uttered by rebel Jack Cade, rallying the people to a new day, wherein he declared: "When I am king, as king I will be....there shall be no money."

You see: Shakespeare was talking about money. So why did Dick allegedly change the subject?

My answer: He didn't. The line actually written by the Bard was this: "The first thing we do, let's kill all the accountants." But after his death in 1616, the famous line was changed.

The Proof: Before there was a legal profession, or English Kings, before there were even governments to tax the people, people had disagreements about money, about who owed what to whom. Therefore, the law grew out of the need to resolve disputes between accountants--each claiming their set of books was correct.

Accordingly, you don't need lawyers until you have a dispute. And what do people argue about more than anything else in history? Money. Marriage counselors say money, not sex, is the source of most marital problems. This may be a sad social commentary, but it is a fact of life. …

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