They kill us for their sport.’ (King Lear, IV.i), [a]
In Nick Hornby’s terrific ‘High Fidelity’, the music-obsessed narrator, owner of a record store, is asked to name his favourite songs by a pretty, young journalist type. [b] He has an embarrassing meltdown. Stumbling out a few choices, he resorts to contacting her several times afterwards, with constant revisions to his ultimate ‘best of’ list, until he realises he’s practically stalking her …
I mentioned the other day that I was coming into King John blind, apart from the Disney film and a vague notion of the Magna Carta. The little I am beginning to accumulate through secondary reading and the play itself is startling.
Step up to the podium, Mr. Howie Carr. Radio host, Boston Herald Columnist, and ironically, the author of a book called Kennedy Babylon: A Century of Scandal and Depravity. Which I suppose makes him a specialist on Scandal and Depravity, right? No wonder he is a Trump supporter.
He’s also the man who had this to say about Barack Obama:
‘this country handed everything to Barack Obama. He didn’t have to work for anything. Just because of the color of his skin he was given everything. And he still hates the country.’ [a]
Disgusting racism aside, I seem to remember that Donald Trump was ‘given everything’, and has managed to squander quite a bit of it. Anyway, you get the picture. So, what’s Mr Carr done to upset William Shakespeare?
Lou Reed had Donald Trump nailed as long ago as 1989, namechecking not just the POTUS but also his latest cheerleader, Rudy Giuliani, in his polemic track, ‘Sick of You‘, which also contains the following memorable and prophetic lines:
They say the President’s dead,
No-one can find his head,
It’s been missing now for weeks.
But no one noticed it!
Yeah, he seemed so fit …
Hot ice and wondrous strange snow: the appetite for articulation …
Frequently, I ask my class to step into the time machine and join me back in 1592.
Conveniently, it’s as close as we can get to dating both Richard III and Edward II, my Key Stage 5 texts. The other plays I teach at the moment – Much Ado About Nothing and Macbeth – follow on from here.
This period was a crucible in which Drama as we know it was being born, alchemically transmuted from the didactic Morality Plays into something fresh and exciting. With my Marxist critical hat on, if we can understand the contextual elements poured into that cauldron, we can better appreciate and analyse the resultant heady brew.
Love it, hate it? Just try it, and see what happens …
Stephen Greenblatt: Tyrant: Shakespeare on Power, (Bodley Head: London, 2018). ISBN: 9781847925046.
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I probably need to declare my bias, not least for new visitors.
I’m an unashamed socialist (I don’t understand how an educator could be otherwise, given that our efforts benefit society more than ourselves); I’m anti-Brexit in the UK, and anti-Trump in the US. One of my most popular blog posts, from two years ago, equated Richard III with Trump. “I am unfit for state and majesty” indeed …