The modern Shakespearean tragedy: ‘Coriolanus’ vs. ‘House of Cards’

No one has to tell us that there’s something rotten in the state of Washington. Congressional disapproval’s at 80 percent.

But “Hamlet,” “Richard III” and “Macbeth” aren’t the only Shakespeare plays the popular Nexflix drama, “House of Cards,” can be compared to.

There are many similarities between Shakespeare’s “Coriolanus” and Beau Willimon’s “House of Cards.”

  • Both leads — Caius Martius Coriolanus and Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) — have served their time. Caius Martius was the Roman soldier who led his troops to victory in the battle of Corioles. Underwood was the United States Democratic majority whip for the past 22 years.
  • Both Coriolanus and Underwood were expecting big promotions. Crowned “Coriolanus” after his victory, he was going to be a Roman consul. Underwood was going to be nominated Secretary of State under the reign of the 45th President of the United States, Garrett Walker (Michael Gill).
  • After not getting what they wanted, both exacted revenge, but the how is how these two men differ. Whereas Coriolanus is a soldier and general, Underwood is a politician. Coriolanus fled Rome and its fickle Roman people, organizing an attack against his former home. Underwood manipulates a more devious plot: to take control of the White House from within, by destroying the political careers of former acquaintances including those of his own party.

Those familiar with the Shakespeare play know Coriolanus’s fate. Meanwhile, Willimon builds a precarious “House of Cards” for his “Breaking Bad”-esqe anti-hero, Frank Underwood — hanging the sword of Damocles above his head as he sits closer and closer to the throne.

The sword’s going to fall eventually. But who will be sitting in the chair?

Season 1 and 2 of “House of Cards” is now streaming on Netflix. “House of Cards” was written by Beau Willimon, Andrew Davies and others, based on the 1990 BBC mini-series and the novels by Michael Dobbs. 

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2 thoughts on “The modern Shakespearean tragedy: ‘Coriolanus’ vs. ‘House of Cards’

  1. Pingback: Moving into an ‘American Horror Story': season one review | Pass the Popcorn

  2. Pingback: ‘House of Cards’ topples down: season three review | Pass the Popcorn

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