Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Good Shakespeare Quotations for Our Current Political Moment

I know, I know, everyone keeps dragging Shakespeare into our discussions of Donald Trump. I myself have complained about this international tendency, e'en on this blog (and even while engaging in it myself). I have kvetched not because I don't like to see people connect Shakespeare to current events, but because I find most of the comparisons between Trump and Shakespeare's villains unfair to Shakespeare's villains. Yet, notwithstanding, as I read and reread Shakespeare's plays, I am repeatedly struck by how precisely this or that character's words apply to the crisis afflicting the U.S. government right now, as the House of Representatives moves to impeach our Horror-in-Chief. So I thought Shakespeare lovers, and those many others who are also appalled by the Dear Orange Leader, might appreciate a list of lines that eloquently described his, and our, situation.
1. "Now does he feel his title / Hang loose about him, like a giant's robe / Upon a dwarfish thief" (Macbeth 5.2). I quote this line with apology to dwarfs. And
to thieves. The greater part of the nation has never gotten over its shock at the phrase "President Donald Trump." It's no less absurd than "President Donald Duck." Now Trump himself is being forced to confront his inability to behave in a remotely presidential fashion, as the consequences of his thuglike behavior are brought home to him.

2. "[Y]et time serves wherein you may redeem / Your banished honors, and restore youselves / Into the good thoughts of the world again" (Henry IV, part 1, 1.3). Step up, Republican congressfolk and senators! Recall the better angels of your nature. You have betrayed the national trust in supporting this golem, but it's not too late to turn back and act like real women and men. Remember what "conservative" used to mean, and what "patriotism" still does. You might even get reelected. But try doing something for another reason.

3. "O, it is excellent / To have a giant's strength, but it is tyrannous / To use it like a giant" (Measure for Measure 2.2). Trump, as established in quotation 1, is no giant, but the power of his office is gigantic. Intoxicated by that power, he began to abuse it as soon as he took office, in the face of a Constitution designed to ensure that there remained a difference between a president and a monarch, lest the former descend into tyranny. It's time to activate the gigantic anti-tyrannical power bestowed by Article I of that document.

4. "A base, foul stone, made precious by the foil, / Of England's chair, where he is falsely set" (Richard III 5.3). If you substitute "Lincoln's" for "England's" in that sentence, you summarize the visceral repugnance most Americans have been feeling for three years at the thought of Trump in the White House. Also, you preserve the iambic pentameter.

5. "It must not be . . . . / 'Twill be recorded for a precedent, / And many an error by the same example / Will rush into the state" (The Merchant of Venice 4.1). Let's forget for a moment that Portia is using this argument to prevent a judge's dismissal of Shylock's contractual claim to a pound of flesh from his business rival. (There are, in fact, illegal contracts.) Let's consider instead how well it describes the danger of allowing rogue presidents and their shills to interpret "executive privilege" as "whatever I feel like doing." Do we want to live in that country?

6. "O, horrible, O, horrible, most horrible!" (Hamlet 1.5). I like this description of Giuliani.

7. "In the corrupted currents of this world / Offense's gilded hand may shove by justice" (Hamlet 3.3). Claudius, who speaks here, displays far more self-awareness, to say nothing of eloquence, than our current head of state, but what he says applies well to our situation. I never thought I would come to admire Jeff Sessions, but he, at least, had the integrity to recuse himself from an investigation in which he might have been called upon to pass judgment on himself. The same cannot be said of William Barr, whom the president specifically named as an accomplice in his attempt to pressure Ukraine into digging up dirt on Joe Biden, Trump's political opponent. So far from recusing himself from the investigation of this issue, Barr remained in charge of a department which tried to squelch the whole affair. That would be the Justice Department. This is not only Shakespearean, it's Orwellian.

8. "What wouldst thou do, old man? / Think'st thou that duty shall have dread to speak / When power to flattery bows?" (King Lear 1.1). Kent's blunt reprimand to Lear for rewarding flatterers puts us in mind of Trump's habit of appointing Fox News sycophants to White House positions. I'm waiting for Sean Hannity to be made Secretary of State, once Pompeo falls afoul of his master. Though old man Trump brands all criticism "fake news," and tries to bar from press conferences any journalist who asks a challenging question, most journalists perceive telling the truth to be their duty, and the truth will out. (That's also a Shakespeare quotation.)

9. "That trunk of humors, that bolting-hutch of beastliness, that swoll'n parcel of dropsies, . . . that stuff'd cloak-bag of guts . . . ." (Henry IV, part 1, 2.4). Usually I hold that appearance is irrelevant to character and therefore not a fair target for criticism, but since Trump routinely attacks his opponents by calling them or their wives ugly, I made an exception to my rule. Dude, ya gross. And to answer a question you once asked reporters (with regard to the Stormy Daniels scandal), "Do I look like a guy who needs to pay women to sleep with me?": Yes. Yes, you do.

10. "Twenty adieus, my frozen Muscovites. / Are these the breed of wits so wondered at?" (Love's Labor's Lost 5.2). Thus an incredulous character (whom I like to picture as Elizabeth Warren) bids farewell to a crew of foolish men who have conversed with her and her friends in the guise of Russians. This quotation seems apt, given Trump's interest in capitalizing on the corruption of certain oligarchic eastern European nations, and given the Ukrainian president's recent performance of silly lap dog to Trump's even sillier owner. "Wit" is not a word I would associate with Trump or any of his minions, domestic or foreign, even though I do wonder at them. I'll be glad to bid adieu to the whole pack of them. Whether their departure comes imminently or (God forbid) much later, it can't come too soon for most of us.

1 comment:

  1. Yea and verily:
    a pox upon that witless man,
    with yellow hair and cheeks of tan.