homepage logo

From Hamlet to Moby Dick, politics in literature

By Staff | Jan 26, 2011

A donkey and elephant duke it out over abortion. Sounds like the opening of a bad joke, and some might argue it is: the ineffectual back-and-forth between one party and the other, quarreling over nuanced matters that affect millions of citizens’ lives, progress denied when discussions are reduced to personal accusations and debating sullied reputations.

Although synonymous with government, politics’ ubiquitous nature complicates corporate offices, universities, hospitals and family rooms as one person, using stratagems and trickery, jockeys to obtain power over another.

Politics is certainly not the road to improved legislation fought for by sophisticated representatives. It is not even broken promises to constituents. It is simply the accepted means for adults to behave like adolescents in the professional arena. And nowhere is this more obvious than in classic literature.

Shakespeare understood the addiction to politics–the treachery, the cunning, and the drama inherent in it. Granted he threw it down in iambic pentameter, which is most likely why his plays, and not House bills, are assigned to AP English reading lists. Paraphrased, great literature is simply politics played out by humans with the maturity of middle schoolers:

Hamlet: A prince grieves the recent death of his father, the late King of Denmark. Erratic behavior after the death of a loved one? Certainly understandable. Repeat sightings of an apparition and swearing revenge on its behalf? That’s called an inability to accept responsibility. Or acting like a whiny bi-otch. Also, stabbing blindly at curtains? Not the best idea, especially when you end up shivving your girlfriend’s father. (Oops.)

Had Hamlet confronted Claudius, his mom’s new husband, about the injustice of having the throne swiped, I think compromise could have been met. Instead, all interested parties get suspicious and scheming, good communication goes down the river faster than Ophelia, and in the end everyone dies a useless death. Real mature, everyone. Real mature.

Pride and Prejudice: A bunch of sisters all looking for husbands. First of all, get your priorities straight. Second, stop looking to parties and dances to reveal the truth of a man’s desire.

The eldest sister, Jane, finds the man of her dreams only to have Mr. Bingley drop her likes she’s hot–and not in a good way. Bit of a misunderstanding there. Lydia runs off with Mr. Wickham and they elope, only to discover Mr. Wickham is not at all what he appears. Jane and Mr. Darcy encounter many a trial and tribulation. Had these men and women communicated, there would have been no pride and no prejudice.

Moby Dick: A man obsessed with killing a whale. A man so obsessed that he takes his entire crew down with him, except for good ol’ Ishmael. Maybe Captain Ahab was made fun of as a child or teased in adulthood for having a whale bone as a leg. Perhaps he was not that skilled at tying knots. Whatever the reason, get into therapy and get off the ocean. End of story.

Lord of the Flies: A bunch of children are stranded on an island and vying for control of their newly formed, accidental contingent. So, this one really is the politics of children: “Sucks to your ass-mar”

Whether it’s a Shakespeare play or the Senate race, we can’t get enough of a good story. Especially when the characters are immature, deceptive adults manipulating the hell out of each other for personal advantage.