Folger Shakespeare Library
  
       
Stage and Screen Education and Inspiration The American Identity

THE AMERICAN IDENTITY

 

Shakespeare and Human Nature

Shakespeare and Human Nature
Walter Mondale, Vice President of the United States from 1977 to 1981; United States Senator from Minnesota, 1964 to 1977

WALTER MONDALE: Shakespeare's great genius was in unraveling and explaining human nature—you know, ambition, egotism, greed, self-pity, all those themes he plays on when he analyzes people in power. I found those words coming back to me all the time in public life.

One of the examples I use is of those people you meet in politics who are, I would say, pure in heart. They're in it for the right reason, they build trust, you can rely on them to tell it honestly, and that's the quote I use from Henry V all the time—about a good heart being "like the sun and the moon, or rather the sun." And in politics, finding people who, despite the pressures of that game, play it straight and true over time, is one of the most blessed things that can happen to you.

We've been through a period here where I think there has been a bald effort to appeal to masculinity, to question people's manhood, their strength in face of challenges, and so on. I think some of the plays that Shakespeare wrote talk to us about these elemental political appeals to manhood, to pride, to nationalism as they saw it in those days, and we see those tactics used in contemporary American politics, world politics. It's almost a predictable pitch when times are tough.