Shakespeare and Trump

Jeffrey R. Wilson
Book Cover

PB: $25.00
EAN: 978-1-4399-1942-2
Publication: Apr 20

Ebook: $25.00
EAN: 978-1-4399-1943-9
Publication: Apr 20

240 pages
6 x 9
1 figs., 16 halftones

Revealing the modernity of Shakespeare’s politics, and the theatricality of Trump’s

Read a blog entry by the author

Read the Introduction (pdf).


Should we draw an analogy between Shakespeare’s tyrants—Richard III, Julius Caesar, Macbeth, and King Lear—and Donald Trump? In Shakespeare and Trump, Jeffrey Wilson applies literary criticism to real life, examining plot, character, villainy, soliloquy, tragedy, myth, and metaphor to identify the formal features of the Trump phenomenon, and its hidden causes, structure, and meanings.

Wilson approaches his comparison prismatically. He first considers two high-concept (read: far-fetched) Shakespeare adaptations penned by Trump’s former chief political strategist Steve Bannon. He looks at University of Pennsylvania students protesting Trump by taking down a monument to Shakespeare. He reads Trump’s first 100 days in office against Netflix’s House of Cards. Wilson also addresses the summer 2017 Shakespeare in the Park production of Julius Caesar wherein an assassination of a Trump-ian leader caused corporations to withdraw sponsorship.

These stories reveal a surprising—and bizarre—relationship between the provincial English playwright and the billionaire President of the United States, ostensibly a medieval king living in a modern world. The comparison reveals a politics that blends villainy and comedy en route to tragedy.


"Wilson looks at the ways in which Shakespeare can illuminate the rise and deeply desired, on the parts of many, fall of President Trump.... Wilson proudly proclaims his progressive political perspective.... He is creditably honest and seems genuinely interested in an open dialogue with those who would disagree with his 'Shakespearean analysis' of the Trump presidency."
— Choice

“‘What means that trump?’ Jeffrey Wilson sounds the Shakespearean resonances of the presidency, from controversial productions to what he terms ‘politicitation.’ Animated by a frank, searching voice, Wilson’s book energetically chronicles our dramatic moment—and how it might end.”—Scott Newstok, author of How to Think Like Shakespeare: Lessons from a Renaissance Education

As Wilson illustrates, the political drama that has unfolded since 2016 is tragedy, comedy, and history rolled into one—and the consequence, in part, of a failure in the humanities to instill the moral and civic lessons that bind us. Serving as a corrective, this book reveals how understanding our present moment through a Shakespearean lens offers the possibility of healing and redemption—not only for the bitter political divide among Americans but also for the American democratic experiment itself.”—Asha Rangappa, Senior Lecturer at the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, Yale University

" Wilson’s take on Richard Gloucester, Frank Underwood and Trump is as deft as it is shows in compelling detail how Richard and Underwood win complicity from their on- and off-stage audiences, and then demonstrates how Trump and his various courtier-goons have used many of the same techniques.... Shakespeare and Trump is unmistakably personal; it is engaging, energetic, open and easy to read."
— The TLS

" Wilson’s Shakespeare and Trump is a worthwhile book.... Bits and pieces of the Trump mystique are embedded in a number of the plays. Wilson’s role is that of a dramaturge of sorts, staging passages from Shakespeare in the reader’s mind to bring out the subtext.... Like the chapter on Bannon’s Shakespeare scripts, Wilson’s account of the Public Theater staging of Julius Caesar in Central Park in June 2017 is a wonderfully researched and probing analysis of adaptation as an interpretive process."
— Inside Higher Ed

"(A)n intelligent but intelligible academic study that places the work of William Shakespeare into the context of a country at war with itself over someone who might politely have been described as an eccentric president. At the same time, it is also a highly entertaining polemical work that analyses the actions and legacy of Donald J. Trump by comparing his behavior and actions with those of a number of Shakespearean characters.... Shakespeare and Trump is both a witty book lampooning a comic character who somehow became the leader of the free world and, at the same time, offers some fascinating insights into both its subject’s behavior and Shakespearean character development."
— British Theatre Guide

Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments

1. Bannon’s Shakespeare
2. Public Shakespeare: The Bard in the 2016 American Presidential Elections
3. Cultural Affirmative Action at Penn: Protesting Trump by Protesting Shakespeare
4. Villainy and Complicity in Drama, Television, and Politics: Shakespeare’s Richard III, House of Cards, and the Trump Administration
5. Twenty Questions about the Public Theater’s Trump-Themed Julius Caesar


About the Author(s)

Jeffrey R. Wilson is a faculty member in the Writing Program at Harvard University.