On Facebook, reader Mike Safar argues that my story on Claire Underwood’s shoes “misses the point.” House of Cards, he explains, “is based on Richard III / Shakespeare. Claire’s heels are analogous to her sword, and she’s always on the attack and would never leave her sword too far away. It’s allegorical.”
And: Certainly. The show definitely takes its cues from Elizabethan tragedy. (I’d say more Macbeth than Richard III, but the beauty of a show like this is that it is expansive enough to accommodate many, many interpretations.) As I note in my article, Claire’s shoes, indeed, do have a (symbolically) martial purpose: They function, for her, as a kind of armor. I agree that Claire’s shoes are, in their way, weaponized. (“Stiletto,” after all, comes from the Italian for “dagger.”)
But to say that a metaphor is all the shoes are is also, I think, to miss another point. Claire isn’t simply an allegory, any more than any House of Cards character is. To call her that, I think—really, to dismiss her as that—undermines House of Cards as a work of literature. What makes any show like HoC artistically powerful is its ability to present characters who can operate seamlessly on several levels of meaning and implication—who are believable as people, essentially, as well as symbols. Claire, I think, for all the soap operatics (and, yes, for all the symbolism) her show has foisted upon her, has been fundamentally believable. That is what has made her such a good character.