My Kingdom for a Horse: The Republican Shakespeareans


Gov. Ron DeSantis has not only expanded his Parents Rights in Education (“Don’t Say Gay”) Act, but now he’s targeting the English language’s most celebrated writer. He’s insisting that schools assign only excerpts from Shakespeare’s plays (Cliff Notes anyone?), lest they expose students to any sexual content.

The governor continues to lock down education in Florida as put-upon teachers scurry to comply with his edict, lest they run afoul of the law. This latest assault is so outrageous one can’t help but wonder how much fun Will Shakespeare would have had with Ron, the bowdlerizing autocrat and his “vaulting ambition” and his rictus-like “smile and smile and be a villain.”

It leads me to wonder about the dramatic potential of DeSantis and his fellow White House aspirants. What roles could those contenders play in the Bard’s plays? After watching the GOP’s junior varsity debate Wednesday, here are some tentative casting decisions:

Ron DeSantis is a natural to play Iago, a heartless manipulator who turned against Othello, his military superior. Iago is a character of considerable intellect but without moral principles and lacking in humor. He boasts about his duplicity, “I will wear my heart upon my sleeve for daws to peck at: I am not what I am.” He’s scheming at revenge. (Take that, Disneyland and Trump.)

Mike Pence could easily be cast as Polonius, counselor to the king in Hamlet. The character is a preachy, self-important blowhard who is fond of handing out platitudes and maxims. After one long-winded admonition, he takes a breath and concludes, “Brevity is the soul of wit.” One brief piece of advice to this Polonius: don’t hide behind curtains.

Nikki Haley could play one of several Shakespeare’s heroines, but she best fits Cleopatra who uses her smarts to one-up men and get what she wants in social and political power. The most vital woman in Shakespeare’s plays (in those days played by a boy), she endlessly recreates herself. She says, “I’ll not be pleased with less than Cleopatra. I’ll not be triumphed over… Be it known that we, the greatest are misthought.” The Egyptian queen delights in baiting snakes and insecure guys.

Tim Scott, the scripture-quoting senator from South Carolina, would make a good Horatio, a cheerleader type: honest, loyal to conservative values (anti-tax, anti-union, anti-LGBTQ, anti-abortion) and perfect to play the buddy of a moody prince. Of him, Hamlet said, “Thrift, thrift, Horatio…there are more things in heaven and earth than we can dream of.” At the play’s bloody slaughter, it is Horatio who’s still standing.

Chris Christie is easily cast as Falstaff (aka “Fat Jack), Shakespeare’s boastful, voluble, old rogue. “Fat Jack” proclaims, “My lord, I was born about three of the clock in the afternoon, with a white head and something of a round belly. For my voice, I have lost it with hallooing and singing of anthems.” The sometime rascal delights at telling disrespectful truths – telling it like it is — and getting away with it.

Vivek Ramaswamy, the young (38) biotech entrepreneur auditioning to be Trump’s mini-me, could play anti-hero Coriolanus. Shakespeare’s perverse warrior is an unthinking character, painful to himself and others. Harsh and strident, he’s consumed with ambition and self-confidence: (“Alone I did it”). As he says, “I’ll never be such a gosling to obey instinct, but stand as a man were author to himself and drew me no other kin.”

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, the tech billionaire, came equipped with a copy of the Constitution although he doesn’t seem ready to enact the role of top dog. Still he could probably play honest, trusting Banquo who goes along with MacBeth only to get offed by the Thane’s hired murderers. His best line: “Hold, take my sword. There’s husbandry in heaven; their candles are all out.”

Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a conservative slow-talking pedant, is almost a comic character and could probably play one of the workmen in Midsummer Night’s Dream. Cast him as the weaver Bottom and you’ll see how he deals with the indignity of wearing a donkey’s head and uttering lines like: “When my cue comes, call me and I will answer…man is but an ass.”

Who wasn’t present – the elephant in the debate room — was the Defendant (aka inmate PO1135809), the current GOP frontrunner. The Donald of the constipated mug shot may be harder to cast since he’s nothing if not a law unto himself. However, on reflection Trump is typecast to play a character with out-sized ambition, malignant narcissism and few threads of decency. Shakespeare offers an array of choices from villains like King Claudius and Richard III. But, when it comes to disposing of those around him, it would be difficult to beat MacBeth. Besides, who but the Scottish guy still keeps seeing witches everywhere?

Jean Godden
Jean Godden
Jean Godden wrote columns first for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and late for the Seattle Times. In 2002, she quit to run for City Council where she served for 12 years. Since then she published a book of city stories titled “Citizen Jean.” She is now co-host of The Bridge aired on community station KMGP at 101.1 FM. You can email tips and comments to Jean at


  1. Alas, Nick Bottom switched parties, becoming a donkey head, and unavailable to play the many Republican candidates he resembles.

  2. Oh my, good thing that wicked, satirical hit pieces are strictly verboten against the distinguished gentlemen and women of the Left. Clearly, no media type much less Saturday Night Live would ever dare to make-light of a Democratic Party politician.

    Defining one’s political opponent is standard fare. Apparatchiks worked overtime to try to define the Ronald Reagans and George Bushes in the political arena, it’s a standard tactic.

    At the end of the day, each politician receives an appraisal based upon what they ‘stand for’ — sadly, though, there are those who would make our political contests a race to the bottom, a sneer fest! Let the competition commence!

    • Clearly, you have never actually watched Saturday Night Live, or you would know that the show has skewered Democratic politicians since it first aired in 1975. Some of these have been simply legendary, including hits on Mike Dukakis (“I can’t believe I’m losing to this guy”) and Al Gore (“Lockbox”), and so many on Bill Clinton that it might take an entire blog just to list the “Best Of”. Oh wait, there’s a DVD of those.

      • Just look at their re-creations of last election’s Democratic debates. Tulsi Gabbard cackling while thunder cracks in the background; Woody Harrelson as candidate Biden (“I’m like plastic straws. I’ve been around forever, I’ve always worked, and now you’re mad at me?”); and best of all, Larry David as Bernie Sanders (“Everyone should get the Clapper!”).

  3. Several friends who read this piece complained to me (privately) that I have the GOP debaters playing mostly likable roles (Falstaff, Banquo, Bottom) when, in real life, they aren’t so relatable. But for example Nikki Haley isn’t Lady MacBeth, nor hardly Juliet. Does anyone see her as Portia or Mistress Quickly? It’s a silly exercise, but kinda fun all the same. Pity the Florida students who won’t get to giggle over the Bard’s bawdy jokes.

  4. Other possibilities:

    The Donald as King Lear?
    Nikki Halley as Katherine in the Taming of the Shrew?

    Chris Christie as Falstaff cannot be disputed, he was made for the role.


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