Bard from Twitter! Shakespearean scholar slams social media giant for suspending account for ‘abuse’ after he quoted famous ‘let’s kill all the lawyers’ line from Henry VI Part 2

  • Shakespeare academic feared to be a merchant of menace by Twitter after post
  • Prof Kirwan had sent message of support to ‘rebels’ actors group for Henry VI
  • He appropriately used ‘kill all the lawyers’ famous quotation from the play in post
  • But Twitter worried he was secretly calling for bloodthirsty uprising against QCs
  • It reversed suspended Prof Kirwan’s account after realising it was Shakespeare 

A Shakespeare academic was suspended by Twitter because it thought him quoting Henry VI Part 2’s famous ‘kill all the lawyers line’ could incite users to murder solicitors.

The ridiculous ruling on Peter Kirwan, an associate professor at the University of Nottingham, came after he used the quotation in a good luck message.

Prof Peter Kirwan got a Twitter sanction

Professor Kirwan made the post of support to the Nottingham Shakespeare Rebels actors, who were performing the play.

He wrote on Wednesday: ‘Really excited for @NottsRebels taking the stage with the @TheRSC for today’s Henry VI press performances. Break a leg everyone, and do kill all the lawyers.’

Twitter pounced on him and suspended his account, warning him ‘You may not engage in the targeted harassment of someone, or incite other people to do so. This includes wishing or hoping that someone experiences physical harm.’

Prof Kirwan ridiculed the decision today as the social media giant reversed the action.

He said: ‘This site routinely platforms racism, misogyny, transphobia, homophobia and much more hate it’d be good to see taking action on.’

In the play’s Act 4 Scene 2, Dick the Butcher makes the extremely well-known remark.

Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou with their courtiers in their illustration of part of his life

He makes the comment replying to Jack Cade, the rebel leader, as he ruminates on what he might do if he was to become king.

Dick says: ‘The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers’.

While at first blush the remark was interpreted as showing Shakespeare’s hostility to the legal profession, it has since been reappraised.

Modern readers take it as a compliment to lawyers, as it portrays them as the keepers of justice in society – a major block against Cade’s power hunger.

English playwright William Shakespeare is now thought to have meant quote as compliment

Rose Lagram-Taylor pointed out in 2018: ‘Killing all the lawyers was seen to be the only way in which society and the monarchy could be brought down.’ 

But Twitter did not seem to realise the quote was from a Shakespeare play, let alone agree with its new interpretation.

It removed Prof Kirwan’s tweet and emailed him to tell him it violated rules on ‘abuse and harassment’. 

When the penny dropped it later admitted: ‘We took enforcement action on the account referenced in error — this action has since been reversed.’

Shakespeare Bulletin, a quarterly journal for which Kirwan works, warned people, be ‘careful what you quote’ to avoid falling foul of Twitter. The group said: ‘Make sure you go and see @TheRSC and @NottsRebels in this apparently inflammatory production of the Henry VI plays which Must Not Be Discussed on the bird app.’  

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