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’s take on Richard Gloucester, Frank Underwood and Trump is as deft as it is insightful...it 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
"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."
"(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
" In the first few pages of Shakespeare and Trump, Wilson observes that ‘Whining, lying, cheating, and being an a**hole are now demonstrable paths to success in America.’ But whilst it is as impassioned as this statement suggests, Wilson’s book is also intellectually curious, deeply humanist and a blisteringly good read…. Wilson argues that Shakespeare’s comic villains, particularly Richard III, can offer insights into the psychology of the president and explain his rise to power…. (T)here is abundant stimulus here for anyone, whatever their politics, to consider the value and the responsibility of the humanities at a time when they are losing influence across the Western world."
— Critical Studies from the Year's Contribution to Shakespeare Studies
"Rather than thrust Shakespeare into Trump, again, like Elysium into hell, Wilson explores what it means that in the past few years Shakespeare has seemed to some a way to come to terms with Trump, whether for or against him.... What kept me reading were Wilson’s carefully researched examples of how and why so many in such disparate circumstances have brought together Shakespeare and Trump, not because Shakespeare is right, but because Shakespeare is there and grants authority."
—Recent Studies in Tudor and Stuart Drama