In a moment of idealism last January, I made a New Year’s resolution to read all 38 of Shakespeare’s plays in 1992. Each week I look forward to my designated Shakespeare evening. I have found the plays to be unfailingly witty and profound, and oddly up-to-date.

In July, with the Democratic National Convention playing softly in the background, I passed the halfway mark and decided to reflect on what I had learned. “Love cools, friendship falls off, brothers divide; in cities, mutinies; in countries, discord; in palaces, treason; and the bond cracked twixt son and father.” Those words from King Lear sounded suspiciously like Mario Cuomo’s nominating speech describing the modern U.S. (Too bleak for most generations’ taste, King Lear was performed for centuries in a happy-ending version. Now, as modern sensibilities have caught up with its dark vision, it has become Shakespeare’s most revered play.)

“Each new morn new widows howl, new orphans cry, new sorrows strike heaven on the face.” Was that Macbeth or Jesse Jackson? Shakespeare’s depictions of crime, injustice, war, treachery, and greed demonstrate that, no matter what either political party says, these problems are not mutations in America of the 1990s; they have been around since Eden.

Furred Gowns Hide All

Some major differences between the Elizabethan view of the world and our own stood out as well. Listening to both parties’ political conventions, I got the distinct notion that if we could just get the economy rolling and clean up the drug problem and educate all those misguided kids in gangs—why, then, a golden age would return to America. Social problems (the closest modern equivalent to “evil”) trace back to poverty and lack of education.

Shakespeare would disagree. ...

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