January 17, 2008

The difference is, Shakespeare plays only feel like they go on for eight years

When Slate editor Jacob Weisberg calls the Bush presidency a tragedy, he doesn't mean it the way most of us do. In Weisberg's new book, The Bush Tragedy, George W. is a less eloquent, less noble, but no less complex, Prince Hal — a doomed jerk taking the entire kingdom down with him. This "unexpectedly compelling piece of armchair psychoanalysis", presented with "skill and seriousness" is on sale now, and will be the prize in next week's Anti-Caption Contest. So I'll actually read your entries this time.

Posted by Daniel Radosh


doomed jerk taking the entire kingdom down with him

Isn't that pretty much the opposite of Prince Hal aka Henry V? He really was a uniter. Agincourt and all that.

Bush isn't even Falstaff.

(Mostly unrelated: Agincourt figures in one of my favorite rhymes, from Billy Bragg's St. Swithin's Day:
What was it all for?
For the weather or the Battle of Agincourt?)

less eloquent, less noble, but no less complex, Prince Hal

I agree that that's a reach. I'd say he's more complex than Rosenkrantz, but less so than Guildenstern.

I guess that's why I threw in "less noble." It's not like I've read the book, you know. I'm just trying to figure out what it's about from the reviews.

Maybe Richard II? Cowed by his advisers, and so fully vested in the ideology of monarchical exceptionalism and the divine right of kings that he was astonished when the very stones of England did not rise up to fight for him?

The Bloomberg review does point out that "The Bush Tragedy occasionally twists itself into a pretzel in trying to fit Bush and his entourage into the paradigms of Shakespeare and Freud." The Prince Hal analogies are easy to make because most people are somewhat familiar with the Henry IV and V plays, even if that knowledge comes only through other comparisons. The only other historical character from Shakespeare that gets much cultural mention is Richard III. Add in Hamlet, Lady Macbeth, Lear, Othello, Shylock, and Romeo & Juliet and you've got all the Shakespearean references we're expected to recognize. The two-dozen-odd other plays can all be ignored.

Richard II sounds like a better analogy (I've never read the play), but the average book reviewer probably isn't even aware that there was a king by that name, let alone a play.

Actually, there's been a lot of debate as to whether Prince Hal is a jerk or not. He comes acorss as heroic in performances of the plays, but he does go to war with France on completely spurious reasons, he threatens to have the Frenchwomen raped and their babies run through. His father advised him to seek foreign wars to avoid domestic criticism. And his treatment of Falstaff is rather shabby. The biggest difference between Hal and Bush is that Hal won his war.

The tragedy is that while Prince Hal held power through hereditary right, people actually voted for Bush. Twice. Well, at least once.

The following 2003 article details various analogies made between Bush and Shakespeare's King Henry:


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