Saturday, March 10, 2007

"Though This Be Madness, Yet There is Method in it"

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

Justice Anthony Kennedy faced a problem he never had in his day job at the Supreme Court.

The defendant has been dead for 400 years, ordinarily reason enough to dismiss criminal charges. But the show, as they say, must go on. So Kennedy had to dream up a way to bring Hamlet back to life, at least long enough to put him on trial for an unusual evening that mixes Shakespeare and the law.

Kennedy will preside for the fourth time at the trial of Hamlet, an unscripted performance that tries to determine whether the Danish prince is insane or should be held responsible for the death of Polonius.

The purpose is to make Shakespeare more accessible, and also to explore vexing modern legal issues, like the insanity defense.

"Hamlet is the greatest dramatic composition in the history of literature. He continues to perplex us. It is so difficult," Kennedy said in an interview in his court office. "If people can be interested in that, then the easier plays follow."

The trial will take place March 15 in a sold-out, 1,100-seat theater at Washington's John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The trial is part of the capital's six-month Shakespeare festival.

Almost every year since 1994, at least one Supreme Court justice has participated in a mock trial that uses a Shakespeare play to explore the American legal system.

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