The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0053  Wednesday, 30 January 2008

From:		Jack Lynch <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:		Tuesday, 29 Jan 2008 21:39:28 -0500 (EST)
Subject:	WS & GWB

Dear folks,

In a few weeks, I'll be addressing a lay audience-not at all 
scholarly-and they've asked me to talk about the political uses of 
Shakespeare.  In the academy, we're accustomed to reading "political" 
broadly, but this audience is thinking specifically about modern party 
politics-and, since it's an American audience, American references will 
inevitably dominate.

I'll be grateful if members of SHAKSPER can direct me to any 
particularly juicy examples that will play well before a non-specialist 
audience.  There's no shortage of material-LexisNexis turns up more than 
a thousand hits for "George W. Bush and Shakespeare"-so what I'm looking 
for is particularly striking examples that will work in this kind of 
setting.  It helps if the plays are familiar to modern nonacademic 

The obvious place to start is comparisons between the current president 
and Shakespearean characters, episodes, and quotations, though 
references to recent US presidents or other high-profile politicos, any 
of the current presidential candidates, or perhaps Tony Blair would fill 
the bill.

In my quick survey of some of those LexisNexis hits, two topics come up 
again and again-both, oddly, to the same character, though they're 
deployed to different ends.  The first came in the aftermath of 11 
September 2001, when Bush's supporters likened him to the dissolute 
Prince Hal, now elevated to a newly serious Henry V.  (One commentator-a 
one-time speechwriter for Reagan and Bush I-was on NPR on 21 September 
2001, declaring "In last night's speech, we saw the President go from a 
callow Prince Hal to a mature Henry the Fourth."  Give or take, I guess.)

The second is to compare GWB to Henry V not in his impressive accession 
to political maturity, but as an invader of dubious moral authority.  As 
the New York Daily News put it in May 2003, "This year's Shakespeare in 
Central Park production is about the leader of a country who diverts the 
people's attention away from the dubious way he came to power by 
invading another country.  President George W. Bush?  No, Henry V."

They're the two leitmotifs; other examples do show up.  Nicholas Kristof 
wrote a widely quoted essay in the New York Times in September 2004; it 
goes through any number of comparisons, some obvious, some forced. 
Shakespeare would have taught Bush about the inevitability of 
intelligence failures, since Othello believes Iago's lies; "Mr. Bush 
emulates Coriolanus, a well-meaning Roman general and aristocrat whose 
war against barbarians leads to an early victory but who then proves so 
inflexible and intemperate that tragedy befalls him and his people." 
That kind of thing.

I also note without comment that LexisNexis turns up more than 300 
articles under "Hillary Clinton and Lady Macbeth."  (Cherie Blair 
doesn't fair much better.)

For this talk I'm not interested in whether the comparisons are apt, or 
whether the politics are left- or right-leaning, only in the fact that 
the comparisons are being made.

Any takers?

S H A K S P E R: The Global Shakespeare Discussion List
Hardy M. Cook, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
The S H A K S P E R Web Site <http://www.shaksper.net>

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