On Saturday, Dean of Berkeley Law Erwin Chemerinsky and Stanford Law professor Bernadette Meyler went head-to-head arguing the facts of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth in an interactive play and mock trial fusion performance at Berkeley’s local Freight and Salvage theater.
Were the three witches guilty for Macbeth’s murders? At the end, the jury decided.
The UC Shakespeare Trial ran its fifth performance of the show “The Macbeth Files: A Witches’ Brew,” capturing audiences of all generations with witty literary puns and contemporary social issues. Actors from UC Irvine’s New Swan Shakespeare festival also performed key scenes presenting the evidence of the case.
“I don’t know what’s worse, iambic pentameter or legalese,” joked Andrew Guilford, former California district judge and a founder of UCI School of Law, who played the role of judge during the trial.
In Act 1, Scene 2, the three sisters Hope Andrejack, Meg Evans and Abel Garcia encouraged Macbeth, played by Evan Lugo, to commit murder. They roamed through the audience in disarranged costumes and makeup, mastering ominous hums and hisses. In Act 4, Scene 1, the trio encircled the cauldron to concoct their “hell-broth” potion composed of human and animal remains, chanting the famous lines: “Double, double toil and trouble; fire burn and cauldron bubble.”
Chemerinsky, attorney for the plaintiff Macbeth, quickly stripped the facts of the case down to two claims: the three sisters allegedly sold an unwholesome food or drug unfit to be consumed under California Penal Code § 383 and unlawfully used dead body parts in violation of California Health and Safety Code § 7208.
His opening statement incited many chuckles from the crowd, remarking that witches only learn to “spell” in school and “how to drive a stick.” All jokes aside, Chemerinsky pointed to evidence that the sisters used human body parts without consent. Further, he said they quite literally tell the audience of their evil motive to cause harm: “By the pricking of my thumbs/ Something wicked this way comes.”
In a sharp reply, defense counsel for the three sisters Myler noted Chemerinsky’s lack of distinction between motive and legal intent, adding that the potion was never intended for consumption purposes. Instead, she portrayed the sisters as a singled-out religious minority, allegedly “demonized” for their uniquely “weird” culture.
Further, Myler argued the sisters deserved religious exemptions for their age-old rituals, citing similar practices for religious gatherings and vaccinations during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. She also offered Indigenous repatriation as a parallel model for nonintervention, adding that Governor Gavin Newsom recently signed into law provisions for composting bodies.
In their rebuttals, Chemerinsky questioned the sisters’ ability to acquire consent, whereas Meyler returned by striking down his secular understanding of her clients’ ritualistic practices.
Following an intense back and forth, Judge Guilford put the jury to a vote to determine the charges live. Audience members raised their hands for either guilty or innocent on both charges. Further, while tabulators counted the votes, Lugo performed a soliloquy from Act 2, Scene 1, during which Macbeth sees a vision of a bloody dagger on his way to kill King Duncan in the play.
Back in the courtroom, after much anticipation, the bailiff brought the final verdict — the sisters were found guilty on charges of the unwholesome sale of food and not guilty on charges of the unlawful use of dead body parts. Chemerinsky and plaintiffs received a narrow win for the first claim, whereas Meyler’s defendants secured an overwhelming majority of votes for the second.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is not a witch trial,” Chemerinsky said during his closing statement. “This is an open shut cauldron of a case.”
Audience members buzzed in the reception area after the show concluded, discussing their own arguments on the case matter. Some playgoers said they were repeated viewers, noting the high quality of several previous Shakespeare productions put on by the group.
The UC Shakespeare Trial has also performed Hamlet, The Merchant of Venice and Julius Caesar, incorporating professionals from UC Irvine, UC Irvine Law, Stanford Law and Berkeley Law, according to the Berkeley Law website. During the performance, Guilford commended the collaborative effort which brought the creative rendition of Macbeth to life.
“It’s great bringing this community together to celebrate art, artists and three law schools,” Guilford said.