The estates of Macbeth and Lady M face off uproariously in STC Mock Trial

Some lawyers in the audience appeared to be following the arguments closely; others were laughing too hard.

Negligence is not the first word that comes to mind when you think of Macbeth. Usually, it’s more of a cold-blooded–murder type of thing. Still, in this year’s Shakespeare Theatre Mock Trial, convened March 5 in Harman Hall, Malcolm has sued the Estates of the late Macbeths for damages in the wrongful death of his father Duncan, which can be caused by “neglect” or “default.” The lower court found for Malcolm and assigned damages as 75% for Macbeth and 25% for Lady Macbeth.

In the current appeal, we the jury were charged with answering this question: Should this judgment be reversed, and Lady M’s Estate be liable for 35% or more of the award?

Shakespeare Theatre Company’s 35th Annual Mock Trial. Photo by Kevin Allen.

The annual Mock Trial, presented by the STC Bard Association based on an STC production, explores the correspondences between classic theater and contemporary law. Previous participants have included Supreme Court Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor, as well as Attorney General Merrick B. Garland

The evening, sparked by the wit of the numerous legal luminaries, was an uproarious one. We learned that Macbeth is “a Ken” and Malcolm is “a nepo baby” and that PTSD actually existed in the 11th century, which makes sense when you think about it.

Some lawyers in the audience appeared to be following the arguments closely; others were laughing too hard.

Our Moderator was Abbe David Lowell, Board of Trustees Vice Chair and Chair of the Bard Association. He reassured the audience not to be shocked that the Court was in session on the set of the current STC production, The Lehman Trilogy, which was covered in shredded paper, the result no doubt of extended discovery.

Lowell introduced the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom: Justice Amy Coney Barrett, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, presiding; Judge Patricia A. Millett, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit; Judge Bradley Garcia, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia; Judge Ana Reyes, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia; Judge Thomas W. Thrash, U.S. District Court for the Northern District Court of Georgia; and Marshal for the Court Pamela Talkin, Former Marshal of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Counsel for Lady Macbeth was Elie Honig, former federal and state prosecutor, best-selling author, and CNN senior legal analyst. Counsel for Macbeth was Katie Phang, NBC/MSNBC legal contributor and correspondent and host of The Katie Phang Show.

LEFT: Judge Thomas W. Thrash, Judge Patricia A. Millett, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, Judge Bradley Garcia, and Judge Ana Reyes; CENTER: Katie Phang, advocating for Macbeth; RIGHT: Elie Honig, advocating for Lady Macbeth, in Shakespeare Theatre Company’s 35th Annual Mock Trial. Photos by Kevin Allen.

Phang argued that Macbeth could not be held responsible. He was a madman who suffered from PTSD due to his war experiences. His vision of a dagger before him was an obvious “psychotic break.” It was Lady Macbeth who instigated the murder and exploited her husband’s vulnerabilities. As Taylor Swift has said, “He was a moth to the flame, she was holding the matches, woah.” Indeed, the summary of her argument notes: “The jury should not have found that there were very fine people on both sides.”

Honig argued that the effort to assign a percentage of the damages to Lady M was a typically misogynistic, patriarchal, “blame-the-woman” strategy. Macbeth, who had a history of violence, obviously gaslighted Lady M into thinking she was more involved than she was. His brief states that Counsel for Macbeth offered no expert witnesses to attest to Macbeth’s PTSD. In fact, it was simply “fake news.”

Questions from the panel of judges were fast and furious. Judge Thomas W. Thrush raised the possibility that the dagger belonged to Hunter Biden. Justice Amy Coney Barrett pointed out, “Didn’t Macbeth have the dagger?”

A Special Guest, actor and director Lise Bruneau, was interviewed by Lowell while the verdict was being decided. Bruneau was recently nominated for a Helen Hayes Award for her performance as Sonia in The Honey Trap at Solas Nua, and at STC she played Emilia opposite Patrick Page’s Iago in Othello. She is also a proud Taffety Punk.

In the end, the court reversed the lower-court decision: the audience found Macbeth and Lady M were equally responsible. As Justice Barrett noted, “Neither one had clean hands.”

Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s greatest hits, and it is featured this season in not one but two STC productions: the October 2023 musical Macbeth in Stride (created and performed by Whitney White), a reimagination of Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth that celebrated the power of the Black woman, and the upcoming Macbeth directed by Simon Godwin, featuring Ralph Fiennes and Indira Varma, now playing in London and coming to DC on April 9 to May 5 at 1301 W St. NE, a custom-built space in a former sound stage.

The Shakespeare Theater Company’s 35th Mock Trial presented by the Shakespeare Theatre Company Bard Association was convened on March 5, 2024, in STC’s Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F St NW, Washington, DC, and live-streamed.

The program, including the Mock Trial Scenario, is online here.

Ralph Fiennes and Indira Varma to lead cast of Simon Godwin’s ‘Macbeth’ for STC (news story, April 27, 2023)
STC announces location, cast, and creative team for ‘Macbeth’ (news story, November 3, 2023)

Ralph Fiennes and Indira Varma appearing as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in ‘Macbeth.’ Photo by Oliver Rosser.
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Sophia Howes
Sophia Howes has been a reviewer for DCTA since 2013 and a columnist since 2015. She has an extensive background in theater. Her play Southern Girl was performed at the Public Theater-NY, and two of her plays, Rosetta’s Eyes and Solace in Gondal, were produced at the Playwrights’ Horizons Studio Theatre. She studied with Curt Dempster at the Ensemble Studio Theatre, where her play Madonna was given a staged reading at the Octoberfest. Her one-acts Better Dresses and The Endless Sky, among others, were produced as part of Director Robert Moss’s Workshop-NY. She has directed The Tempest, at the Hazel Ruby McQuain Amphitheatre, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the Monongalia Arts Center, both in Morgantown, WV. She studied Classics and English at Barnard and received her BFA with honors in Drama from Tisch School of the Arts, NYU, where she received the Seidman Award for playwriting. Her play Adamov was produced at the Harold Clurman Theater on Theater Row-NY. She holds an MFA from Tisch School of the Arts, NYU, where she received the Lucille Lortel Award for playwriting. She studied with, among others, Michael Feingold, Len Jenkin, Lynne Alvarez, and Tina Howe.


  1. Thank you, DCTA, for continuing to cover one-shot events like this one! Even though there’s no way to see it, I love reading about STC’s mock trials, and about the love of Shakespeare evinced, in this case, by people whose political views are not, otherwise, admired. The author has done a great job giving us a brief sampling of the briefs.


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