U.S. politics through the eyes of Shakespeare

Even Shakespeare couldn't have improved on the entertainment value of this most bizarre of presidential campaigns


Shakespeare, u.s. politics

NEW YORK April 18, 2016/ Troy Media/ – April 23rd will mark the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death. To him, mass communication meant selling out the Globe Theatre and a political action committee probably implied lethal machinations at the Royal Court.

But even without access to the pundits or prognosticators of cable news, Shakespeare managed to convey his message with such insight and with that, four centuries later, it is not unusual to comment upon modern politics by referencing his body of work.

Many see the Netflix hit House of Cards as daring in its gleeful willingness to lay bare the often brutal nature of backroom politics in Washington. To anyone who sat through high school English, it must be obvious that the series is also a 21st century reimagining of Macbeth.

It is likely that neither Frank nor Claire Underwood would exist in such delicious and morally twisted form if not for a playwright born almost half a millennium ago.

Were he alive today, there’s little doubt William Shakespeare would find the real characters present in modern politics to be irresistible targets – ripe to be carved by his cutting and clever satire.

Nowhere would the material be more accessible and abundant than the interminable U.S. election which, at this point, also seems to have begun 400 years ago.

His probable interest in this election would be difficult to dispute. One supposes that the only drawback would be that it has already been so bizarre that it is not certain any dramatist could improve on it as entertainment.

As regards Donald Trump, Shakespeare may have briefly struggled with the decision of presenting his improbable rise and potential fall as comedy, tragedy or some unholy hybrid of both. Of the candidates left in the race, Trump possesses the most obvious tragic flaw of anyone: hubris.

In the thematic rules of dramatic structure, Trump’s own arrogance and pomposity should have derailed his candidacy long before now. That there has not yet been a singular, spectacular act of self-destruction and personal implosion is, perhaps, the most amazing part of the Republican nomination fight so far.

But, as they say in the theatre, we’re not even at intermission yet.

As for Bernie Sanders, it’s hard to imagine how his blunt and unpolished rhetoric would translate into iambic pentameter. Shakespeare’s plays certainly were filled with those on the fringes of power who did not shy away from direct speech. Come to think of it, that may describe Sanders to a tee.

He has amassed unto himself a following that even he could not have imagined when this contest began. In more recent days, he has been invited to a Vatican conference on the economy and worker’s rights – yes, in the middle of an election campaign. Hey, when talking about endorsements, now that’s an endorsement.

But, above all, Shakespeare would have loved Bill and Hillary Clinton. Both alone and together, the two so personify the human embodiment of a power-grasping force of nature that their story practically cries out to be told. Bill and Hillary are not only Shakespeare-worthy, they would actually fall into that rarest of categories of having their tale told in multiple parts.

From the early days in Arkansas to the White House years, from Gennifer Flowers to Monica Lewinsky, from Vernon Jordan to Whitewater, the Clintons are a dream duo when it comes to scandal. From his impeachment to her potential indictment and from Benghazi to paid speeches for Goldman Sachs, they are truly the only modern couple that actually deserves the unfortunate trend of having their names blended into one – Billary.

William Shakespeare would never have passed on the opportunity to skewer this cast of characters on the sword of their own self-importance. He may even have come to the conclusion that, so far, the political puffery of the primaries has been:

“….a tale,
told by an idiot,
full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”

And we’re not even close to the curtain coming down yet.

Troy Media columnist Gavin MacFadyen is a Canadian writer and lawyer living in New York state. Gavin is also included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.

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