Ben Brantley is the chief theater critic at The New York Times. Brantley is the editor of “The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century" (2001) and received the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism in 1997.
Ben Brantley: I suppose the obvious analogy for Obama would be Richard II. I don’t buy it myself. I think Obama is a stronger president than Richard II was, a king, but a man who is perhaps politically naïve, who is perhaps too cerebral for the world of assorted politics. You could make a case for it. I could see Obama as Hamlet, a man given to great cerebral self-examination who finally realizes he has to act.
I don’t see Obama as Richard III the way a lot of people cast Richard Nixon as Richard III. I don’t see Obama as Macbeth, although I think Macbeth when you go back to it is every ambitious person or at least someone with the grains of ambition who can be manipulated by an ambitious person that you’ve ever known and the thing for me about Shakespeare is, you know, you see these people standing around the water cooler. I work with a dozen Iagos.
One of the most popular Shakespearean analogies presents George W. Bush as Henry V. But does it hold up?