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Debt Crisis Reveals Obama's True Shakespearean Nature

August 4, 2011, 2:12 PM
Obamashakes

Having enjoyed this recent Big Think video, in which drama critic Ben Brantley is asked to name a Shakespearean character that Obama closely resembles, I've been giving the question a little thought myself. Brantley’s answers are illuminating but, as he admits, not completely satisfying. He mentions Richard II—“a man who is perhaps politically naïve, a man who is perhaps too cerebral for the world of sordid politics”—but concedes that Obama is a better leader than the outrageously incompetent Richard. I'd add that none of Richard’s personal qualities—his fatalism, his vanity, his theatricality—seem appropriate for “No Drama Obama.” (Although it would be hilarious to see the President sit on the floor in despair in the middle of a summit.)

Brantley also suggests Hamlet, a more plausible parallel. Like the prince, Obama is extremely intelligent but sometimes overly deliberate. He shows occasional flashes of withering sarcasm; he also carries the burden of a dead father’s legacy. But for better or for worse, he’s no longer the rebellious younger man he once was, even to some extent as a candidate. And again, Hamlet has a kind of flamboyant fatalism—a “doom-eagerness,” as Harold Bloom likes to call it—that doesn’t square well with the generally optimistic Obama.

I would say it’s been a while since the President’s given us the kind of oratory that would justify a Mark Antony comparison. And an Othello comparison would be glib at best: apart from having had to grapple with minority status in their respective societies, the two men—fortunately—have little in common.

But once all the debt ceiling madness got resolved, in no one's favor, the answer finally hit me. In retrospect, it was obvious: Obama, these days, is the Prince in Romeo and Juliet. Remember him? The guy who was nominally in charge of Verona, and was always stepping in too late to stop brawls between the Montagues and Capulets? The one who stood so far above the fray that he was often invisible? The one whose rhetoric could be commanding—

 

                   What, ho! you men, you beasts,

That quench the fire of your pernicious rage

With purple fountains issuing from your veins,

On pain of torture, from those bloody hands

Throw your mistemper'd weapons to the ground,

And hear the sentence of your moved prince.

 

—but whose results left something to be desired? (After the speech above, the prince orders the heads of the two families to confer with him separately: an approach as bipartisan as Obama's, and apparently, just as effective.)

Obviously this little allegory would make the American people Mercutio, yelling “A plague on both your houses” at the two major parties. Or maybe we’re the fish in Pericles, “hang[ing] in the net like a poor man’s right in the law.” Or, hell, just the groundlings at the Globe, watching the tragedy unfold and trying not to puke up our crackers and ale. Readers, feel free to offer other suggestions. Other Shakespearean Obama comparisons are welcome, too.

 

Debt Crisis Reveals Obama's...

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