NO MORE ANALOGIES: SHAKESPEARE AND TRUMPISM IN THE UNITED STATES
Associate Professor Chris Thurman, School of Literature, Language and Media, Wits University
Attempts to identify Shakespearean precursors to Donald Trump – ranging from Macbeth to Richard III and King Lear – became a discernible subgenre in media coverage of Trump’s rise to power and of his presidency. Most of these think-pieces ventured a critique of the president-as-demagogue. Yet Shakespeare has previously been recruited by a figure like Stephen Bannon (whose Shakespearean enthusiasm is eccentric, but certainly not innocuous) into the ambit of white supremacist populism. Others in the president’s camp also indulged in Shakespearean analogies. This should be all the warning one needs against the use of Shakespearean paradigms to try and interpret contemporary American politics. The lecture will present a cautionary tale for scholars in early modern studies and political commentators alike – one that prompts us to reflect critically both on defences of Shakespeare’s centrality in the classroom and on the practice of what Jeffrey R. Wilson has called ‘Public Shakespeare’.
Shapiro, J. 2020. Shakespeare in a Divided America: What His Plays Tell Us about Our Past and Our Future. New York: Penguin.
Wilson, J.R. 2020. Shakespeare and Trump. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.