Last April, a NY post article called “The Bard’s Ballot,” compared the republican presidential candidate Donald Trump to Bottom the Weaver from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I found the comparison amusing, but sadly misguided. Trump isn’t a foolish actor trying to play Fairy king, he’s a conniving, evil bully who has slaughtered his opponents and is poised to take all the power in this country. There is only one character in the cannon who matches this level of cruelty: the hunchbacked cripple Richard III.
As you know, I’ve written about this before, but even I felt hesitant to compare Trump to the most vile of Shakespeare’s villains but frankly, if the hump fits, wear it.
How did this happen? How did we as a country get here? To try and solve this question, let’s take a lesson from Shakespeare. What follows is an analysis of the careers of both Trump, and Shakespeare’s Richard of Gloucester. For both men I’ll try to report chronologically through the play and through the primary to the election. For you teachers, this is a good way to explore the plot of Richard III, and you might want to adapt this post as a project for your students.
But first, a short disclaimer- I use the name “Shakespeare’s Richard” because I want to be clear that I’m talking about the character and not the historical king, who, as I discussed in a previous post, bears little resemblance to Shakespeare’s iconic villain.
Analysis of Shakespeare’s Richard/ Donald Trump. Acts and Scenes taken from Open Source Shakespeare.com
Before both men were nominated to their positions of power, everyone thought they were a joke. Trump’s Orange face, ridiculous combover, and obvious lack of experience made news pundits literally laugh out loud when people even suggested he’d be the nominee.
Meanwhile, Shakespeare’s Richard got plenty of jeers himself because of his hump, bad limp and tiny hands, (sorry I mean withered arm). The first time he speaks in Henry VI, Part II, Act V, Scene one, Lord Clifford (a Lancastrian) just tells him to shut up:
Lord Clifford. Hence, heap of wrath, foul indigested lump,
As crooked in thy manners as thy shape!
In both cases, it proved dangerous to ignore the man, because it gave him a chance to slaughter everybody- In Act 1, Richard gets his brother Clarence arrested for treason. Then in Act III he arrests Lord Rivers, Grey, and Vaughn, chops off Lord Hastings’s head, and secretly has his own nephews murdered.
Trump’s kind of murder is more an assassination of character- he accused Ted Cruz of being Canadian, attacked Marco Rubio’s sweatiness, and relentlessly attacked everything about Carly Fiorina from her business record, to her appearance. Which brings me to my next point about Trump/ Shakespeare’s Richard:
Both Blame all the country’s problems on women– Richard knew that the only way to get away with killing his opponents was to blame his murders on someone else, someone whom the nobles hated even worse than himself. His brother the king married Elizabeth Woodville, a poor widow who had no political influence. The nobles hated her for “cheapening” the English monarchy. Even worse, Elizabeth made her brother Anthony into Lord Rivers and her son the Marquess of Dorset. Richard blames them for his brother’s death and has them sent to prison and execution. He even blames the queen king herself for his deformed arm, in a plot to get one of her supporters executed.
Trump’s feuds with Rosie O’Donnell, his overtly sexist remarks against female reporters, and of course, his infamous claim that Hillary Clinton is the co-founder of ISIS and that her legacy is one of “Death, destruction, and weakness”, demonstrate his mysogynist, scorched-earth rhetoric when dealing with the first female presidential nominee.
Another parallel is that Shakespeare’s Richard is particularly nasty when attacking people’s sexual history. Just like Bill Clinton, King Edward IV had a widely publicized affair with a woman, which damaged his reputation. Richard curses Jane Shore, Edward’s mistress as a witch and blames her for the King’s death, (when actually Richard had a greater hand in it). Smearing his brother as an adulterer helps Richard establish himself as a pious, humble king in Act III. In the clip above, you see Richard accepting the crown dressed as a monk, complete with rosary and a prayer book in his hand. Trump mirrored this kind of hypocrisy when he attempted to attack Bill Clinton’s infidelity with Monica Lewinsky, despite the fact that it has nothing to do with Hillary’s campaign. In addition, it’s been well documented that Trump has been married four times, and cheated on his first wife with the woman who would become his second, as well as his current wife.
Both Men Stir Up deep Hatred and Animosity– As I mentioned in my previous Trump post, Trump has basically made his campaign on promising to deport immigrants and refuse Muslims into this country, which means he has created a power base of highly xenophobic people who have even resorted to violence in his campaign rallies.
Shakespeare’s Richard is just as vile. Not only does he get the nobles to support him because they’d rather see him on the throne than Elizabeth’s children, at the end of the play, he uses some extremely xenophobic remarks against his enemy Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond. Henry was living in France for most of his life, and his army was mostly composed of Welshmen, which Richard exploits by condemning them all as foreigners.
Notice how at the end of the speech, Richard (in true Trump fashion), warns his followers that if they don’t destroy Richmond’s followers, (whom he calls ‘Bretons’), that they will rape the Englishmen’s wives and daughters, sound familiar?
In Order To Win, Both Men Have A Powerful mouthpiece- BUCKINGHAM V Surrogates
To convince the English people to reject King Edward’s sons as bastards, Richard enlists the help of the Duke Of Buckigham, an oily politician if ever there was one and a cunning orator. Basically, Buckingham is Richard’s campaign manager.
To get the nobles to support Shakespeare’s Richard, first Buckingham gets Will Catesby to spy on Lord Hastings, to see if he’ll side with Richard or the prince. When Hastings turns out to be indifferent, Richard calls on the Privy Council to chop off his head. Hmm, who else has asked his supporters to assassinate his opponent?
Then Buckingham stages a campaign rally to try and get the citizens to support Richard, and this leads me to the most bizarre example of life-imitates Shakespeare I’ve ever seen.
Both Richard and Trump paid people to support him:
According to the Hollywood Reporter, back on June 12th, 2016, Trump paid a bunch of actors to cheer at one of his campaign rallies. This was one of the most embarrassing dirty tricks of the Trump campaign (so far), and amazingly, it worked! But then again, it worked for Richard as well:
In Act III, scene 7, Buckingham plants a bunch of people in a crowd during a speech where he declares the prince illegitimate, and demands “All they that love their county’s good say: “God save Richard, England’s worthy king.”
- Duke of Buckingham. I bid them that did love their country’s good
Cry ‘God save Richard, England’s royal king!’
- Duke of Buckingham. No, so God help me, they spake not a word; 2225
But, like dumb statues or breathing stones,
Gazed each on other, and look’d deadly pale.
Which when I saw, I reprehended them;
And ask’d the mayor what meant this wilful silence:
His answer was, the people were not wont 2230
To be spoke to but by the recorder.
Then he was urged to tell my tale again,
‘Thus saith the duke, thus hath the duke inferr’d;’
But nothing spake in warrant from himself.
When he had done, some followers of mine own, 2235
At the lower end of the hall, hurl’d up their caps,
And some ten voices cried ‘God save King Richard!’
And thus I took the vantage of those few,
‘Thanks, gentle citizens and friends,’ quoth I;
‘This general applause and loving shout 2240
Argues your wisdoms and your love to Richard:’
And even here brake off, and came away.
Notice in line 2235, Buckingham makes it clear that the only people who call out to Richard are Buckingham’s followers, not members of the general public. Also note earlier where he has to speak for Richard second hand, like a modern Trump surrogate. It seems almost comic that Trump borrowed such a text-book piece of political villainy.
After the fake rally for Richard, Buckingham brings a group of citizens to Baynard’s Castle in order to”beg” Richard to accept the crown. As you saw in The Hollow Crown clip earlier, while Richard plays monk, Buckingham plays concerned citizen, trying to keep the “bastard” son of a letcheous king from disgracing the country by putting the “humble” Richard on the throne.
Trump has many people whose sole job is to lie about everything he says and does, from his campaign manager, ( who, by the way, believes that the reason women are raped is they aren’t as strong as men), to his campaign surrogates who try to twist and spin every racist, sexist, and downright ludicrous thing Trump says:
Richard/ Buckingham’s fall:
The first three acts of Richard III are an upward climb for the title character, but then in Act IV, when Richard orders the murder of King Edward’s son, he slowly loses his supporters, including Buckingham. You’ll see in this scene from Act IV, Scene ii, once Richard is crowned, he is instantly faced with a multitude of threats to his power, leading him to murder his nephews and try to marry his own niece. Meanwhile, after Buckingham leaves King Richard, he is found, captured, and has his head chopped off.
Trump may be on a downward spiral already. True, he didn’t murder children, (although he does apparently hate babies). In the past three weeks, he slandered the family of a war veteran, declared that his opponent is the founder of ISIS, and is losing in almost every major poll. Also, his own Buckingham, his campaign manager Paul Manafort, got his head on the block by being forced to resign from Trump’s campaign. Manafort has a long history of getting money from people like Vladimir Putin, which raises suspicion that he might have been involved in the Russian hacking of the DNC emails. Even worse for Trump, he now knows that his immigration policy won’t work and won’t appeal to the majority of Americans, and is now promising to do nothing different from Obama, despite the months he spent promising to kick out as many undocumented minorities and Muslims as possible. Voters do not tolerate flip-flopping candidates, and this back pedaling could seem like a fatal weakness.
The aftermath/ the Future?:
Shakespeare’s Richard was a cruel tyrant who led the country into a civil war and spent all his time trying to keep the crown on his head. His allies deserted him, and he was left crying for a horse before he was eventually defeated… by a woman! Queen Elizabeth Woodville resisted Richard’s demands to give him her daughter to him in marriage, and instead gave Henry Tudor her consent to marry the young princess (who was also named Elizabeth). The marriage legitimized Henry as heir to the throne.
Henry then challenged Richard to battle and defeated him at the Battle of Bosworth field, then took the throne as King Henry VII. His dynasty led England to the greatest period of peace and prosperity in its history, with a woman on the throne who was also called Elizabeth.
Let’s hope the election plays out as well as Shakespeare’s Richard III, just as Trump’s ominous rise to power has mirrored Shakespeare’s Richard’s infamous career.