Trump’s Cabinet as Goneril and Regan

John Rogers Herbert, Lear administering the love test to his daughters


While New York City’s Shakespeare-in-the-Park production of Julius Caesar has come under fire (I’ll post on the controversy later this week), many are observing that the play we should be talking about is King Lear. I’ve been making the case for a while, but the president exceeded even my expectations when a televised Cabinet meeting yesterday reenacted the play’s love contest.

As Brian Beutler of The New Republic described the event,

Trump assembled his entire cabinet at the White House on Monday, and, in a display of dominance and humiliation like none I’ve seen in an advanced democracy, invited everyone in attendance to go around the table praising Dear Leader before the press corps. The whole creepy-bordering-on-obscene spectacle lasted about 11 minutes.

Here’s a partial account of what people said:

Vice President Mike Pence spoke first: “This is the greatest privilege of my life is to serve as vice president to a president who’s keeping his word to the American people.”

Next up was Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has caught Trump’s ire of late for his recusal from Russia-related matters: “It’s an honor to be able to serve you in that regard and to send the exact right message, and the response is fabulous around the country.”

And on it went, with each official describing in glowing terms their admiration for Trump’s work.

“I want to thank you for getting this country moving again, and working again,” said Elaine Chao, the secretary of Transportation.

“It’s a new day at the United Nations. We now have a very strong voice,” said Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN. “People know what the United States is for. They know what we’re against. They see us leading across the board.”

“Mr. President, what an incredible honor it is to lead the Department of Health and Human Services at this time under your leadership,” glowed the agency’s head Tom Price.

Chief of staff Reince Priebus was perhaps the most effusive in his praise.

“On behalf of the entire senior staff around you, Mr. President, we thank you for the opportunity and the blessing that you’ve given us to serve your agenda and the American people,” he said.

For comparative purposes, here’s what Goneril tells Lear:

Sir, I love you more than words can wield the matter;
Dearer than eye-sight, space, and liberty;
Beyond what can be valued, rich or rare;
No less than life, with grace, health, beauty, honour;
As much as child e’er loved, or father found;
A love that makes breath poor, and speech unable;
Beyond all manner of so much I love you.

Here’s Regan:

Sir, I am made
Of the self-same metal that my sister is,
And prize me at her worth. In my true heart
I find she names my very deed of love;
Only she comes too short: that I profess
Myself an enemy to all other joys,
Which the most precious square of sense possesses;
And find I am alone felicitate
In your dear highness’ love.

Not one Cabinet member chose Cordelia’s decision to “be silent,” although CIA Director Mike Pompeo came closest: “[I]n the finest tradition of the CIA, I’m not going to say a damn thing in front of the media.” But Pompeo did so to avoid confrontation, skillfully playing on Trump’s hatred for the media, whereas Cordelia knows that she will incur her father’s wrath.

Beutler wonders whether Trump went through the exercise because “he worries the end is near.” After all, the vice-president and half the cabinet could trigger the 25th amendment by finding him unfit for office, thereby activating his removal. Maybe he was making sure of them.

That may be a more elaborate explanation than is required, however. Trump needs perpetual reassurance, and he has appointed cabinet members who will give it to him.

If the entire episode makes you want to gag, there’s a character who speaks for you. Here’s the noble Kent calling out Goneril’s sycophantic steward Oswald:

Kent: Fellow, I know thee.

Oswald: What dost thou know me for?

Kent: A knave; a rascal; an eater of broken meats; a base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound, filthy, worsted-stocking knave; a lily-livered, action-taking knave, a whoreson, glass-gazing, super-serviceable finical rogue; one-trunk-inheriting slave; one that wouldst be a bawd, in one way of good service, and art nothing but the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pandar, and the son and heir of a mongrel bitch: one whom I will beat into clamorous whining, if thou deniest the least syllable of thy addition.

For Kent, Oswald represents all those who sacrifice the good of the commonwealth for their own private advantage. He ends up in the stocks for the assault, but it’s worth it.

Previous posts comparing Trump and/or the GOP to King Lear

May 31, 2017: Lear, Trump, and the Tyrant’s Loneliness

May 30, 2017: Will Trump, Like Lear, Take Us All Down?

March 21, 2017: Trump as Lear, Howling in the Storm

March 10, 2016: #NeverTrump! Never! Never! Never! Never?

May 9, 2016: Time for GOP Moderates To Go to Ground?

May 8, 2016: Now, Gods, Stand Up for Trump!

Dec. 30, 2015: Conservative Extremists as King Lear

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