As seemingly unprecedented and wild as this election season has been in the U.S., the perspective from the long arc of history tells us this has all happened before. If you don’t believe me, you need go no further than my favorite oracle, William Shakespeare. Many of his plays were about history and politics, and through his long career of playmaking, he created Kings and Queen, rakes and rogues, saints and saviors, all professing service to the state.
In preparation for tomorrow’s Election Day, I’ve culled together a few choice quotes about politicians and politics. Looking at all of them together, one might be tempted to say Shakespeare was pretty cynical and open-eyed about politics. But not everything here is negative. Take a look and see if you can match quotes to specific events and people from this past year.
I am disgraced, impeached, and baffled here,
Pierced to the soul with slander’s venomed spear.
—Richard II, Act 1 Scene 1
Woe to that land that’s governed by a child
—Richard III, Act 2 Scene 3
Tis much when sceptres are in children’s hands,
But more when envy breeds unkind division:
There comes the ruin, there begins confusion.
—Henry VI Part 1, Act 4 Scene 1
The commonwealth of Athens is become a forest of beasts.
—Timon of Athens, Act IV, Scene 3
The caterpillars of the commonwealth,
Which I have sworn to weed and pluck away.
—Richard II, Act 2 Scene 3
Why, look you, I am whipp’d and scourg’d with rods,
Nettled and stung with pismires[nettles], when I hear
Of this vile politician, Bolingbroke.
—Henry IV Part 1, Act 1 Scene 3
Get thee glass eyes, and like a scurvy politician,
seem to see the things thou dost not.
—King Lear, Act 4, Scene 6
That skull had a tongue in it and could sing once. How the knave jowls it to the ground, as if it were Cain’s jawbone, that did the first murder! It might be the pate of a politician, which this ass now o’erreaches, one that would circumvent God, might it not?
—Hamlet, Act 5, Scene 1
When lenity and cruelty play for a kingdom,
the gentler gamester is the soonest winner
—Henry V, Act 3 Scene 6
Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.
—Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 4
This image is of Elizabeth I, Shakespeare’s ruler, circa 1588. This portrait is called ‘The Woburn Abbey’ portrait, possibly painted by George Gower. The painting celebrates Elizabeth’s triumph over the Spanish Armada. As you can see, she holds the whole globe of the Earth in her hand.