Angry and alone, ‘Mad King’ Trump reigns

Blasted heath: King Trump raves in the storm. © Tutu (with apologies to the original artist, William Dyce)

Is Donald Trump having a meltdown? After the US president unleashed a torrent of fury on Twitter, one Washington Post columnist argues that Trump’s demented rage echoes Shakespeare’s mad King Lear.

An elderly leader, surrounded by sycophantic followers, puts his selfishness before the responsibilities of his office. Paranoid and defensive, he bellows into the air — cursing his enemies, both real and imagined.

Remind you of anyone?

In The Washington Post, Henry Olsen has written a column comparing Donald Trump to William Shakespeare’s King Lear.

Lear is an old king who rewards his two cruel but flattering daughters with riches and power, while their loyal, honest sister is banished. Eventually, Lear goes mad, and ends up shouting in the middle of a storm.

Trump’s tweets may lack the poetic power of the king’s ravings, writes Olsen, but they reveal that he shares “Lear’s cast of mind”.

“If Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey,” he tweeted on Monday.

Trump’s pledge to “destroy and obliterate” Turkey could come straight from a speech that Lear spits at his daughter Cordelia, when she refuses to bend to his whims. “Come not between the dragon and his wrath,” seethes the old man.

Those now stepping out to publicly question Trump’s mental state include attorney George Conway, husband of Trump’s advisor Kellyanne, who wrote that the president’s “bizarre behaviour” makes him unfit for office.

More sinn’d against than sinning?

Is Trump having a meltdown? His behaviour is unstable and obsessive, and his comments (“my great and unmatched wisdom”) are getting more disconnected from reality. We are seeing the deepening cracks in a troubled mind.

But hasn’t big rhetoric been Trump’s strategy from the beginning? He is a master at social media who knows exactly how to excite his followers, particularly in the run-up to an election. Trump may be theatrical, but only because he knows how to put on a show.

You Decide

  1. Is Trump “more sinn’d against than sinning”? Why or why not?


  1. Read a summary of King Lear. Choose one scene to draw, like the one we have used above.

Some People Say...

“Thou shouldst not have been old till thou hadst been wise.”

The Fool in King Lear by William Shakespeare

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Henry Olsen is not alone in comparing Trump to King Lear. In The New York Times, Maureen Dowd writes that Trump “rages in the storm, Lear-like”.
What do we not know?
What the result of Trump’s anger will be. Unlike Lear, who was mad and powerless, Trump remains one of the most powerful men on Earth.

Word Watch

Flattering someone in order to gain advantage.
Unreasonably suspicious; thinks everyone is out to get them.
Shouts in a loud voice.
Random talk that is hard to understand.
Completely destroy.
Sudden desires or changes of mind that can’t be explained.
Extreme anger.
Speech or writing that aims to persuade.
When describing a person, someone who exaggerates their behaviour for effect.

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