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Shakespeare in the 21st Century

Macbeth: the Forerunner of American Politics


Lady Macbeth, the Modern Version Courtesy of

Ah, October. The leaves changing color and crunching underfoot, bonfires, bobbing for apples, hot cider, and for us Shakespeare fans, the perfect time to read Macbeth. After all, you have not one but three (count them, three) witches open the play, plus a pretty awesome ghost pageant in the fourth act. Now, there are several movies which either have quotes from the play, or that draw directly from the plot.

One of the most interesting iterations of this play as of late has been the Netflix series House of Cards. This show draws greatly from the plot of Macbeth, in that it details a congressman’s ruthless quest for power after some politician or other reneged on their promise (I know, politicians not keeping their promises, who would have thought it?).

When the audience is first introduced to Francis Underwood (the main character), he sees a dog get hit by a car and, seeing that it is unlikely that the dog will recover, promptly chokes it to death. He then goes into a monologue where he tells the camera that it is sometimes necessary to do something considered “bad” for the greater good. Granted, he would probably be a bit more believable/ sympathetic if he weren’t saying it immediately after killing an animal. This parallels the views of Macbeth in the play, when he begins to kill his friends in order to secure his position as king of Scotland.

Likewise, Underwood’s wife, much like Lady Macbeth, is the one who feeds her husband’s ambitions. She also praises her husband’s vices (the ones that can be used to bring them higher in the social stratosphere) and disparages him for his weaknesses. If I were to pick a fitting quote for her relationship with her husband, I would definitely choose one of Lady Macbeth’s famous lines: “Screw your courage to the sticking place.” A fitting quote to describe Claire Underwood herself would definitely be “look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under’t.”  She not only encourages her husband’s vices, but actually admires them. When she describes their relationship, she remarks “he never apologizes…not even to me.” While that would generally be a trait that would irritate most wives, Claire Underwood sees it as a strength. A strength that can be used to their advantage.

Thus, House of Cards is a great show to watch. It combines the horror aspects of Macbeth in the form of good ol’ American politics (the reason I would never go into that profession is that it’s a pretty scary to never know who you can trust), and the social commentary that is common to both Shakespeare and the television show. It also provides a bit of satire which, especially with election season coming up, makes the political commercials somewhat bearable.


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2 thoughts on “Macbeth: the Forerunner of American Politics

  1. adamranddietz on said:

    I actually just read Macbeth for the first time ever and I quite enjoyed it! I had never considered the parallels between it and “House of Cards” (a show I think very little of), but your summation of Robin Wright resembling the Lady Macbeth character is spot on. I enjoyed reading this post.


  2. Glad you enjoyed the post! I’ve watched House of Cards, but I have to admit that I much prefer the original backstabbing of Macbeth.


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