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Stage and Screen Education and Inspiration The American Identity

THE AMERICAN IDENTITY

 

Which Shakespeare characters were presidents compared to?

Which Shakespeare characters were presidents compared to?

Shakespeare’s heroes and villains offer an easy way to criticize or praise America’s politicians, including the presidents. For instance, Andrew Jackson, the hero of the War of 1812, was vilified by his political foes for the military executions of several militia members during the war. To make the point, a cartoonist drew him as Shakespeare’s Richard III, the epitome of an evil leader, forming his face out of tiny corpses. Below the drawing, the caption read “Methought the souls of all that I had murder’d, come to my tent.”

Before World War II, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was shown more than once in cartoons as Hamlet—the cartoonists’ classic symbol of indecision. In 1966, the irreverent play Macbird portrayed Lyndon Johnson as a Macbeth-like character.

In the modern news environment, political comments are often echoed by multiple pundits. English professor Scott Newstok has written about the many commentators, conservative and otherwise, who compared Shakespeare’s Henry V and President George W. Bush early in the Bush presidency. Even before the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, some supporters cast President Bush as a young Prince Hal—a future leader with a misspent youth, driven to redeem the record of his father. After the attacks, comparisons to Shakespeare’s heroic warrior king spread like wildfire. As President Bush’s popularity waned in the later years of his presidency, however, the traditional American comparisons to Richard III and Macbeth emerged once more.

 

Clifford Berryman. Maybe this one will work. 1938. Folger Shakespeare Library.