Tens of millions who might never beetle along to the theatre to watch Shakespeare's tragedies have instead, on their TVs and other devices, just been watching something very Shakespearean going on.
Donald Trump's decline and fall, the manner of it, is eerily reminiscent of the plights that befall the mighty (and usually deluded) in many of Shakespeare's plays.
Trump's now famous first post-election press conference was spellbinding. This columnist (tragically addicted to breaking news and to Shakespeare) watched it live. One felt bound by the same spells that bind when, in the theatre, one watches Shakespeare's fatally flawed high and mighty (King Lear, Julius Caesar, Timon of Athens and others) toppling themselves into abysses of their own making.
Trump's post-election press conference (just the President's stream-of-delusions monologue about how he was the true winner of an election temporarily distorted by conspiratorial ballot fraud) struck different commentators in different ways.
CNN's anchor Anderson Cooper gasped that "We have never seen anything like this from a president of the United States."
"It's sad and it's truly pathetic ... That is the most powerful person in the world and we see him like an obese turtle on his back flailing in the hot sun, realizing his time is over, but he just hasn't accepted it ..."
Cooper's comments are the most quoted but my ears pricked up at other, more nuanced comments.
Someone Shakespeare-attuned (I didn't get his name) was reminded of "Lear on the heath," the passage in King Lear when Lear, crazy now and gibbering, is out in a howling wilderness in a terrible storm.
Someone else (I didn't catch her name) thought we were seeing a grieving President (subconsciously grieving over a defeat he wasn't able to admit to himself) without the foggiest idea of how to process his grief.
She was right. We were watching an always immature and unpleasant and now visibly unwell man making a global spectacle of himself. One felt almost ashamed of watching it, this pornography, and of not having the decency to switch it off.
As well, my mind full of Shakespeare, I was reminded of bear-baiting.
In Shakespeare's time, patrons, as part of a great London day out, used to go to the bear-baiting and then go (just a short walk) to the Globe to see Shakespeare's latest. Many sensitive people surely went to the bear-baiting but once, vowing never to go again to something so barbarous, so cruel.
For something truly Shakespearean to befall someone, he or she must be someone with lofty heights to fall from.
At his Shakespearean press conference, pitiable Trump sometimes seemed more of a baited bear than a flailing turtle. But of course this analogy is flawed since, unlike a baited bear, Trump's public humiliation was self-inflicted, albeit inflicted by the malignant demons of his own narcissism over which he has no control.
Coincidentally the notion of things being "Shakespearean" is a theme of a vaunted, much-discussed new book, Robert McCrum's Shakespearean: On Life & Language in Times of Disruption.
In an extract, McCrum notes how "in May 2020, Robert De Niro, in conversation with BBC TV's Newsnight, seemed at a loss to describe American politics. Finally, he exclaimed, 'It's like Shakespearean, the whole thing,' to summarise the crisis as he saw it."
"Shakespeare revels in the dramatic present," McCrum continues.
"No fewer than three of his plays begin with 'Now.' Imminence is his default position. This is Elizabethan: Shakespeare's age lived in the 'now' from sunrise to sunset ..."
Yes, there were plots galore against Elizabeth the Virgin Queen and constant agonisings over what horrors of succession might result when the childless Elizabeth died. Public speculation about Elizabeth's succession was forbidden, but Shakespeare's plays bristle cryptically with disguised catastrophic succession scenarios set in other times and in other lands.
One enthusiastic reviewer of McCrum's book, Rowan Williams (former Archbishop of Canterbury and a scholarly Shakespeare devotee) trills that "as we are reminded early on in this engaging and animated book, 'Shakespearean' as an adjective has had an unexpected currency in journalistic responses to the dramas engulfing the politics of the US."
"What [the word Shakespearean] seems to denote for the writers who have used it is a sense that the persons of the drama are not the captains of their souls, but are at the mercy of both internal and external forces they do not understand or control."
I would add that for something truly Shakespearean to befall someone, he or she must be someone with lofty heights to fall from. This is why nothing truly Shakespearean enriched the late ACT elections. No one of consequence was involved and nothing of importance was at stake in that insubstantial pageant.
To be Shakespeareanly tragic a person must have some "greatness" about them or their office. Being a monarch, emperor, president, premier of NSW (Gladys Berejiklian's disgrace is at least quasi-Shakespearean) or a potentate of some other kind is important to the Shakespearean formulae. When these nobs are toppled by being themselves, when rank and pomp are of no help to them in their crises, we the people (we the audience) appreciate this glimpse of the Great Truth of flawed mankind's common feebleness and fragility.
Rowan Williams thinks that, watching Shakespearean truths enacted on Shakespeare's stage and in life, "we learn to interrogate ourselves with rather more fear and trembling".
And, surely, with rather more empathy.
Readers, if you didn't feel at last a flicker of pity for the press conference's poor, bear-like, desperately insecure, fake-complexioned, wig-wearing presidential character, then you must have pebbles for hearts.
Get thee, ye pebble-hearted, to a psychotherapist. Then as soon as possible hie thee to a performance of Shakespeare's sensitising, compassion-building King Lear.
Ian Warden is a Canberra Times columnist
Ian Warden is a Canberra Times columnist
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