Donald Trump is a “tyrant” who was described to a T centuries before he was even born – by William Shakespeare, no less. Specifically, the Bard’s description of villain Richard III is particularly spot-on, says Shakespearean scholar Stephen Greenblatt.
As Yahoo News reports, Greenblatt’s conclusions about the similarities between modern politicians and Shakespeare villains is the subject of his new book, Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics. And for what it’s worth, Trump’s name doesn’t appear even once in the book, but Yahoo News writer Jerry Adler is quick to connect the dots.
As you may remember from high school English class, Shakespeare, like so many writers of his day, didn’t always come up with original plots and characters. Most of his body of work was drawn from history, legend, or existing stories. Many of his villains are either real English or other European monarchs (Richard III, for example) or quasi-legendary ones (Macbeth, King Lear).
In particular, Richard III – both in his character traits and in his actions – almost eerily mimics Trump, says Adler.
“He is pathologically narcissistic and supremely arrogant. He has a grotesque sense of entitlement, never doubting that he can do whatever he chooses…. He expects absolute loyalty, but he is incapable of gratitude. The feelings of others mean nothing to him. He has no natural grace, no sense of shared humanity, no decency.”
What’s more, Richard got to power through “a political campaign, complete with a fraudulent display of religious piety, the slandering of opponents, and a grossly exaggerated threat to national security.”
— Shakespeare Magazine (@UKShakespeare) May 6, 2018
Once in power, Richard III continually claimed that he was achieving his goals, even though he wasn’t.
To be fair, Greenblatt points out that Shakespeare couldn’t possibly have looked 400 years into the future and seen Donald Trump, or any other 21st-century politician, and written his characters based on them. What’s more, tyrants “come in all shapes and sizes,” says Adler.
Even Richard III has startling differences from Trump – specifically, in his humility (or at least, his feigned humility to his subjects). He’s also ugly and makes no attempt to hide it or excuse it.
Greenblatt also points out that there are similarities not just between Shakespearean tyrants and modern politicians but in their respective electorates as well. For example, Richard III got to his position thanks in large part to the complacency of his people, who were either unwilling to see his flaws or looked past his flaws because they believed in his larger ideals. Others were simply done in and silenced by his bullying.
For Adler, the warning is a clear one. Not that we should look into the past and marvel at how writers of the day were able to see our own future but rather, that we should look at our own present and consider how historians of the future will look at us.