Guilty or not guilty? That is the question as UCI law school deans face off in a mock trial of Hamlet


The founding and current deans of the UC Irvine School of Law went head to head Wednesday evening in the university’s first mock trial based on Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”

For one night, the Irvine Barclay Theatre was transformed into a courtroom where Song Richardson, the dean of UCI Law, defended the fictional Danish prince against a charge of first-degree murder in the killing of Polonius.

The prosecutor was played by Erwin Chemerinsky, UCI Law’s founding dean and now dean of UC Berkeley’s law school.


U.S. District Judge Andrew Guilford moderated the event as the two presented their case to the jury — the audience — which ultimately determined Hamlet’s fate.

In Shakespeare’s tragedy, Hamlet learns from the ghost of his father, King Hamlet, that he had been killed by Claudius, the prince’s uncle, in order to seize the throne and marry the king’s widow, Gertrude. The ghost calls on Hamlet to avenge his death.

Hamlet and Gertrude have a heated conversation in which he accuses his mother of betraying his father by marrying Claudius. As they argue, Polonius, chief counselor to the king, spies on them behind a curtain and makes a noise.

Hamlet stabs him, believing he’s Claudius.

Unlike most juries, the audience watched Hamlet thrust his knife into Polonius as professional actors brought the scene to life onstage before the mock trial.

Richardson and Chemerinsky referenced quotes from the play throughout the trial and used props to drive their arguments.

Chemerinsky urged the jury to focus only on the “relevant” facts. He argued that “vigilantes” can’t take it on themselves to uphold the law as they see fit, even if they’re the prince of Denmark.

As Richardson took center stage, she painted an elaborate picture of the prince, describing him as a bookworm with a healthy and close relationship with his father.

Richardson argued that Hamlet killed Polonius in self-defense because he was caught off-guard and in a vulnerable state while in a heated discussion with his mother.

The jury ultimately determined — by a 327-310 vote — that Hamlet was not guilty.

Twitter: @vegapriscella