It’s Time to Turn the Page on the Trump-Shakespeare Comparisons


As we are saying farewell to President Trump, why is nobody discussing Timon?

I don’t imply the loafing tan meerkat from “The Lion King,” although he would possibly do. Moderately, I check with the title character of “Timon of Athens,” the Shakespeare tragedy wherein a bankrupt businessman, abandoned by his sycophants and bereft of energy, renounces society with wild curses (“Matrons, flip incontinent!”) to take up a miserly life by the ocean at Mar-a-Lago.

Wait, sorry, flawed sea — Timon’s is “exterior the partitions of Athens.”

The confusion is pure; Shakespeare is doing double responsibility today. Whereas sustaining his profession as the most-produced playwright in the world, he’s additionally moonlighting because the most-cited supplier of metaphors for the Trump period — and notably its denouement. Hardly a thumb-sucking political evaluation goes by with out allusion to considered one of the 37 canonical plays, nevertheless restricted or far-fetched the comparability could also be.

Not that Shakespeare is a newcomer to the gratuitous allusion sport. For many years if not centuries, he has been the go-to model for fast gravitas. (Multiple U.S. politician has been known as the “American Macbeth.”) However one thing in regards to the Trump presidency, which involves an finish Wednesday, has from its begin despatched writers on a scavenger hunt by means of the First Folio.

It’s not Timon they normally come again with. (The play, circa 1605, is among Shakespeare’s least loved.) Scholarly references in fashionable tradition solely work if the reference is fashionable. Googling the phrases “Trump” and “Timon of Athens” returned fewer than 150,000 hits, about as many as “Trump” and, say, “The Lucy Present.”

However once I entered “Trump” and “King Lear,” greater than 2.8 million hyperlinks popped up. Lots of these led to a present really known as “Trump Lear,” a biting comparability of the 2 leaders that ran Off Broadway in the summer of 2017.

The comparability isn’t totally inapt. Each the king and the president are recognized for taking part in loyalty video games: Lear along with his daughters, Trump along with his minions. (Is Mike Pence a Regan or a Cordelia?) Each have been, let’s assume, ambivalent about turning over the power of office. Each are divisive — in Lear’s case actually, slicing up his kingdom like a pizza.

However you can also make that type of comparability between any two merchandise of human tradition when you slim your scope sufficient. (Like Lucy, Trump is at all times entering into hassle.) If Shakespeare’s performs are so typically the primary selection of pundits searching for so as to add grandeur to their accounts of the makes use of and abuses of energy, it’s much less as a result of they’re apt than as a result of they’re ubiquitous, overflowing with rulers of each tragic stripe.

Not that current protection has restricted itself to the tragedies. Trump has been detected in the deluded, preening Malvolio of “Twelfth Night time” and in the overconfident, malaprop-prone Nick Bottom of “A Midsummer Night time’s Dream” — the one who’s reworked into an ass.

Largely, although, it’s the tragedies and histories — led in my casual survey by “Julius Caesar,” “King Lear,” “Hamlet,” “Othello,” “Macbeth,” “Coriolanus,” “Richard III” and “Henry V” — which were cited to get on the core of Trumpism. However do they actually?

Take a look at only a few of the correspondences:

So there you may have it: Trump is just about the whole Shakespeare canon of tragedies — even “Romeo and Juliet” — rolled into one. But this mania for comparability is determined by a skinny evaluation of each the president and the performs.

For one factor, pundits are ignoring the traits that don’t match. Richard was born disabled; Hamlet was avenging a homicide. Many of the others have been victorious warriors; President “Bone Spurs” wasn’t.

Past that, the performs, with all their faults, have a profound and noble objective that Trump doesn’t: to supply perception into life. The comedies provide perception into love; the remainder, into the corruption of energy. However there are not any vibrant traces: The genres blur — as does the ethical standing of the characters. Not often does Shakespeare current anybody as totally evil; maybe solely Iago, who doesn’t deny it. Everybody else is made from flecks of fine and unhealthy, revealed and partly justified within the glinting mild of language.

However like most actual folks, solely extra so due to his psychological and political make-up, Trump shouldn’t be capturable in that manner. He doesn’t advertently open his coronary heart in public, and our time has not required that he make himself understood by means of phrases. (Twitter doesn’t rely.) Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln come alive of their letters, diaries and tracts. Hamlet has some 1,500 lines wherein to elucidate himself. However Trump stays ceaselessly impenetrable in 280-character outbursts, which is why commentators have gone to such excessive lengths to dig up precedents which can be simpler to fathom.

I admit that I do it too. I look to “Julius Caesar” for a information to demagoguery. And to “King Lear” to grasp how a person who has “ever however slenderly recognized himself” might know others effectively sufficient to rule them.

However even these comparisons are reductive — in each instructions. Shakespeare’s characters are a lot richer and extra readable than somebody as unforthcoming as Trump. On the similar time, we’d be fortunate if he have been merely Shakespearean; no made-up villain, even Iago, is as alarming as somebody for whom all of the world is actually a stage.

Nonetheless, there’s one thing to be mentioned for the Iago comparability. His last line, as he’s dragged off to justice, is “From this time forth I by no means will communicate phrase” — a consummation devoutly to be wished.



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