And then there is the mob. In Henry VI, Part 2, the followers of Jack Cade—played in this production by Rudy Giuliani—call for killing all the lawyers. They also seem to have a desire to kill anyone who can speak French or Latin, or who has any learning at all. But Jack Cade ends up with his head on display to warn others about the price of rebellion against lawful order, as do so many in Shakespeare’s plays. More interesting are the Roman mobs that love Caesar, then approve his murder, then, after some masterful manipulation by Mark Antony, turn on Brutus and the conspirators. They are not particularly picky. They kill Cinna the poet rather than Cinna the senator, declaring that it’s all the same—kill him for bad verse. The mob cheers Coriolanus and then expels him from Rome, only to tremble in terror when he comes back with the enemies of Rome in orderly ranks at his back.
But if Shakespeare takes a dim view of the Make Rome Great Again populace, his scorn for their manipulators is far deeper. Mark Antony is brilliant at crying havoc and letting slip the dogs of war, but he throws away his leading role in the Roman state once he meets Cleopatra. His lust derails a promising career as aspiring global dictator.
Eliot A. Cohen: How this will end
The Trump family should not take a great deal of comfort from Shakespeare, either. Yes, Henry V succeeds Henry IV (albeit not without some difficulty), but orderly succession is the exception in his plays. And indeed, Henry V’s own son, Henry VI, turns out to be something of a political dope. Inheriting power is tougher than it looks. Harry Percy finds that out when his dad, the earl of Northumberland, is inexplicably late for the decisive battle. So much for paternal affection. Percy’s last words after losing his duel with Prince Hal are that he will shortly be “food for—” “Worms,” Hal helpfully finishes the sentence. Don Jr., Eric, Ivanka, and Jared take note.
Finally, the henchmen. They’re lucky if they get sent packing with their heads still attached to their shoulders:
They love not poison that do poison need.
Nor do I thee …
With Cain go wander through shades of night,
And never show thy head by day nor light.
But then again, hireling thugs have not usually been all that happy to this point in their lives anyway:
I am one, my liege
Whom the vile blows and buffets of the world
Hath so incensed, that I am reckless what
I do to spite the world.
It would be pleasant to contemplate a parade of senatorial and congressional lickspittles, craven fixers, nutcase advisers, and unprincipled hangers-on meeting their comeuppance, albeit in considerably less stark terms than befalls most Shakespearean characters. No doubt many will be able to minimize the damage done by their association with Trump. Many will safely monetize their government experience (Dancing With the Stars was Sean Spicer’s creative effort in that direction), pretending that their service had nothing but the purest motives behind it, and that they either did not know about the seditious inclinations and plots erupting at this very moment or opposed them. But let’s face it: Once the play is over, the supporting roles rarely get reevaluated, and all the lesser villains can hope for, like Iago, is a bit of wonder at their motivations and eventual fate.
And what of Trump himself? How might Shakespeare summarize his presidency? Let me suggest this: “A tale / Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury / Signifying nothing.”