Truth against falsehood – Why Shakespeare matters

William Shakespeare: Hamlet. ISBN 978-0-19-953581 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ “Madness in great ones must not unwatched go.” I have read Shakespeare’s play “Hamlet” for the first time as a teenager ahead of seeing the piece in Stratford-upon-Avon and re-read it recently while brooding over Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s incidental music inspired by the play. Through the piece, the current US president came to my mind. What wretched creatures mighty men often are!

Claudius, King of Denmark, murderer of his brother, Prince Hamlet’s father, and usurper of the throne – his pitiful existence, based on a self-perpetuating lie, is exposed first by the ghost of the murdered king, than by a band of theatre actors and finally by Hamlet himself. But it is through his own words that the King of the Great Lie gives evidence of his moral mediocrity. “Madness in great ones” are Claudius’ words to characterize Hamlet. But Hamlet, Bearer of the Truth, only feigns his madness to execute his revenge on Claudius. Claudius turns reality upside down just as Donald Trump does: Anything contradicting the present US president’s mindset is labeled by him as “fake news” and considered a threat.

In reality, Trump’s presidency is “fake politics” right from the start. He didn’t win the popular vote and the crowd at his inauguration wasn’t exactly impressive. Trump’s ascendance does not reflect the will of the majority of the US electorate, it is the result of an outdated election system. Trump’s political achievements so far are ridiculous compared to his declared ambitions, and this is hardly surprising since Trump never had any real political agenda. He is exclusively interested in promoting himself. He is a salesman selling himself as a brand through Twitter. To succeed in this endeavour he hijacked politics and pretended to stand for certain political ideas that were popular among those who were most prone not to elect his rival Hillary Clinton. Or, as Hamlet puts it to his friend Horatio: Let candied tongue lick absurd pomp!

Donald Trump is no president and his political project is an empty shell. Much talk, little substance. Shakespeare had a keen awareness for the trappings of political power in the 17th century which are essentially the same 400 years later: Vanity, without which you cannot run for office, slyness to seduce the masses, falsehood to discredit any rivals and deflect any criticism, ruthlessness to stay in power, arrogance as you get used to be in power. Sounds familiar? It should.

Shakespeare’s play pitches truth against falsehood, Hamlet against Claudius. Both die in this moral struggle, but Hamlet is the moral victor since he saves his friend Horatio from certain death. Truth, deceny, loyalty and friendship – these are the virtues to guide us through difficult times. What was true in the 17th century is of utmost relevance today. People should spend less time on social networks and read Shakespeare instead. Present writer included.

As I already mentioned Tchaikovsky’s incidental music renewed my interest in “Hamlet” and stimulated my writing:

Murder, madness and stirring melodies