The Nixoniad - Shakespeare's modern history plays in context
June 19, 2017 9:01 AM   Subscribe

This essay analyses the sequence of seven plays by William Shakespeare known variously as the Modern Histories, the American Plays or the Nixoniad. Written by Shakespeare between 1971 and 1976, some during his extended stay in New York from 1969 to 1974 and the rest after his return to England, the American Plays cover roughly three decades of US history.... As Shakespeare's Julius Caesar causes some unexpected controversy, you might enjoy reading this essay (from 2015) on some of his other political plays: The Nixoniad - Shakespeare's modern history plays in context.

The essay was annoyingly posted in reverse chronological order. Blog entry December 16, 2015 is the first part; entry December 2, 2015 is the last. You can use the "Older Post" link to move from one to the next. Alternatively, here are links to them in the correct order:

Part 1: Introduction.

Part 2: William Shakespeare was born on 25 April 1927 in Stratford-upon-Avon, the second of three children.

Part 3. Henry VI Part I opens Shakespeare's account of the Wars of the Roses, and it does so with a funeral.

Part 4. Harry Truman Part I is the first of the Modern Histories by internal chronology, and was the first to be produced (in February 1971) but it is not, or at least is probably not, the first to be written.

Part 5. Harry Truman Part II is its predecessor's opposite in several respects.

Part 6. Harry Truman Part II was staged for the first time on 11 November 1971 - Veterans' Day in the US.

Part 7. The core of Eisenhower is a single brief scene - the Blair House conversation, III.i, between Eisenhower and Truman.

Part 8. Eisenhower opened at Alleyn's Theater in January 1972, less than three months after the opening of Harry Truman Part II.

Part 9. Timeline: premieres and selected subsequent performances of the Nixoniad.

Part 10. We can only regret that Shakespeare did not follow Eisenhower with his own John Kennedy.

Part 11. The crowning glory of the Nixoniad is, without doubt, Richard Nixon itself. But Lyndon Johnson Part II is a close second.

Part 12. The History of Lyndon Johnson opened on 16 October 1972 at Alleyn's Theater.

Part 13. Throughout his stay in the United States, Shakespeare published and performed nothing except for the Modern History plays.

Part 14. After the lacklustre reception in Boston of The Succession of Lyndon Johnson (now Lyndon Johnson Part I), Shakespeare's nerve may have been shaken.

Part 15. Lyndon Johnson Part III (briefly, according to advance playbills, The Downfall of Lyndon Johnson, but renamed before it opened) is the source of many of the most popular images and speeches of the entire Nixoniad.

Part 16. Richard Nixon, written a year after Nixon's resignation in 1974, benefits from the perspective.

Part 17. The opening of Richard Nixon marked the end of Shakespeare's direct artistic involvement with the United States.
posted by great_radio (10 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
2015? Oh, such an innocent time!
posted by hippybear at 9:08 AM on June 19 [1 favorite]

Ah, but we were so much smarter then
We're dumber than that now
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:13 AM on June 19 [3 favorites]

Someone pointed out the other day that Trump's recent Cabinet meeting where he insisted everyone took turns to praise him is strongly reminiscent of King Lear's opening scene. And we all know how well THAT play ended for the vain, deranged old man at its centre.
posted by Paul Slade at 9:41 AM on June 19 [3 favorites]

It's like an alternate history version of MacBird.
posted by doctornemo at 9:58 AM on June 19 [1 favorite]

"Voters quickly forget what a man says."

-Richard Nixon
posted by clavdivs at 10:16 AM on June 19

Orson Wells - The Begatting the President (wp)

1 Orson I -- 1 Orson 3
In the beginning, LBJ created the Great Society. And darkness was upon the face of the Republicans. And the spirit of consensus moved across the land. And LBJ said, "Let us continue". And they continued. And the Evening and Morning were the First Day. And LBJ said, "Let us make War on Poverty." And Lo, there were welfare cheques fallen upon the land. And upon them it was writ, "Fold not, neither shall ye spindle, nor mutilate." And LBJ saw that it was Good. . . .

1 Orson 4 -- 2 Orson 2
Now before this came to pass, the Lord God planted a garden east of Whittier, at a place called Yorba Linda. And a child, Richard, there grew to manhood. And he was righteous. And he took to wife, the damsel, Pat. And she was righteous. And they were righteous together. For they knew not wine nor string drink, and their status was Middle-Middle, and they offended not, and the number of their cavities were fewer, and they suffered not irregularity, for they were chosen among all men. . . .

2 Orson 3 -- 2 Orson 5
Now it came to pass that the Republicans saw there was confusion amongst their enemies, and The Election would fall upon them, and they asked, "But who is there to lead us, that we may cast out the Democrats, and dwell in the Tents of Power?" And they searched their hearts. . . .
posted by Herodios at 10:39 AM on June 19 [1 favorite]

Someone pointed out the other day that Trump's recent Cabinet meeting where he insisted everyone took turns to praise him is strongly reminiscent of King Lear's opening scene. And we all know how well THAT play ended for the vain, deranged old man at its centre.

Literally the night before that happened, I came across this tweet in regards to Shakespeare in the Park's modernized Julius Caesar. It is getting harder and harder to believe that this is reality and not just someone fucking with me.
posted by ckape at 3:40 PM on June 19

This looks great, and the blogger's other project would appear to be of interest as well.
posted by mwhybark at 11:54 PM on June 19

That was a fun piece of world-building. I wonder if we could get @dick_nixon to weigh in.
posted by whuppy at 6:52 AM on June 20

@dick_nixon . . .

Before he #dicks you.
posted by Herodios at 10:36 AM on June 20

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