King Lear And The California Courts


This weekend, I watched the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s production of King Lear in beautiful Ashland, Oregon. Thus, my thoughts are on the Bard today. It turns out that the play is no stranger to several recent California opinions.

For example, Justice William W. Bedsworth of the Fourth District Court of Appeal began Estate of Giraldin, 199 Cal.App.4th 577 (2011) with the following:

“This appeal involves a family. While it might not rise to the level of King Lear, it is about as tragic as families can get when all they are fighting about is money.”

Things got pretty tragic in King Lear - the play ends with the death of the King and all three of his daughters:

“The weight of this sad time we must obey;
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.
The oldest hath borne most: we that are young
Shall never see so much, nor live so long.”

In Gale v. Superior Court, 122 Cal.App.4th 1388 (2004), the late Presiding Justice David G. Sills, also of the Fourth District Court of Appeal, wrote:

As King Lear might have said, if nothing is pled, nothing shall come of it.

Cf. King Lear, Act I, Scene 1 (“Nothing will come of nothing . . . “). In fact, “nothing” is a recurring theme of the play (see, e.g., the final quotation below).

I even found one instance of misattribution in People v. Krueger, 2011 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 951 (Feb. 11, 2007) (“It reminds me of what Shakespeare said in King Lear, that ‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’ and this is what happened here.”). That quotation, however, is from Act III of William Congreve’s The Mourning Bride (1797).

As far as I can determine, no California court has quoted Shakespeare’s single reference to lawyers in King Lear:

Then ’tis like the breath of an unfeed lawyer- you gave me nothing for’t. Can you make no use of nothing, nuncle?

However, the late U.S. District Court Judge Alvin B. Rubin alluded to this line in Clark v. American Marine Corp., 320 F. Supp. 709, 711 (E.D. La. 1970) (“It [Congress] did not look, like Lear’s jester, to the breath of the unfeed lawyer, but considered that the prevailing litigant should be able to pay the laborer the worth of his hire.”).


DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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