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The comparisons between Lear and Trump are stark

Posted by Theo Bosanquet on 26 Sep, 2018

Shakespeare's doomed King has much in common with the 45th President of the United States

Ian McKellen in King Lear, © Matt Humphrey

Tomorrow night King Lear starring Ian McKellen will be broadcast around the world via NT Live. The timing could hardly be more appropriate for audiences to be reminded of Shakespeare's doomed king, a powerful man who loses everything to his own vanity, hubris and madness.

You may have noticed there is a similar figure currently stalking the world stage. I speak of one Donald Trump, whose parallels with Lear stand up to serious scrutiny. I'm far from the first person to make this comparison: There was even a show at this year's Edinburgh Fringe titled Trump Lear.

As Ron Charles wrote in the Washington Post

"Once you make the comparison between Lear and Trump, the similarities begin to line up like attendants at court. Most striking, the old king of Britain and the new president of the United States are rulers obsessed with personal devotion. Trump is, as he once noted in his typically Shakespearean way, 'like, this great loyalty freak.'"

But this maniacal need for adoration is far from the only similarity. Questions regarding mental illness hang over both characters (it seems fair to refer to Trump as a character); Lear yells at the wind on the blasted heath, while Trump uses block capitals on his Twitter feed.

Then there are the Freudian relationships with their daughters. Lear makes his daughters argue for their share of his kingdom by declaring their love for him. Trump once said he would gladly date his daughter if she didn't happen to be his, erm, daughter.

Mckellen Lear

There's also something interesting in the way the courts around both men attempt to control their unpredictable natures. In Lear, the Earl of Kent attempts to stand up to the King's mistreatment of Cordelia only to find himself banished. In the White House heads seem to roll almost weekly of those the President deems to be disloyal.

One wonders how far the comparison will eventually stretch. After all, we are only approaching the interval of Trump's first term. Like Lear, will he eventually come to repent of his misdeeds? Or will he carry on raging at the night until the crown is finally wrested from his head? Either way the final act is destined to be dramatic.

So if you do watch King Lear tomorrow, and I highly recommend that you do, be sure to pay close attention. For it's often only through the stories of our past that we can truly comprehend our present. As a great man once said (not Shakespeare this time, but Spanish philosopher George Santayana), those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

A memo to the President: They're showing it at the cinema Gallery Place 14, less than a mile away from the White House.

King Lear is broadcast from the Duke of York's Theatre on via NT Live on Thursday 27 September. For a list of venues, click here

See also:

Ian McKellen wows audience after leg injury

Photos: Backstage with McKellen and Stewart

10 of the best: Shakespeare monologues for auditions

A note to theatre professionals: You're worth it

10 reasons to upgrade your Curtain Call account

Topics: Blog


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