In the last half century there have been some great speeches by American presidents and some have been wonderful orators. But there has been a striking lack of Shakespeare quotations and that’s strange when you think about it: Shakespeare had something beautiful, concise and definitive to say about every imaginable situation.
Abraham Lincoln was one president who used Shakespeare liberally. He was fascinated by Shakespeare and was an enthusiastic theatre-goer, which was quite literally the death of him, assassinated, ironically by John Wilkes Booth, a member of the renowned Shakespearen theatrical family. Lincoln was particularly fond of Macbeth and perhaps a victim of the Macbeth curse. In productions of the play members of the company will never utter the word “Macbeth” because of the bad luck it will bring them and refer to the play as “The Scottish play.”
President Obama has yet to quote Shakespeare in a speech but I fear for his safety because he has uttered the dreaded word. On a trip to Ford’s Theatre, site of Lincoln’s assassination, Obama paid tribute to the 16th president’s ability to recall passages of Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Macbeth. It’s quite alarming!
In his inaugural speech the President came close to quoting Shakespeare, echoing Richard III’s “now is the winter of our discontent” with “this winter of our hardship”. He used the phrase again more recently in a news conference, referring to the economic downturn. But winter is only one of the seasons and perhaps the use of the phrase is an expression of hope that there will soon be an upturn. Perhaps he was implying an unspoken quotation for us to supply: “If winter comes can spring be far behind?”