Thursday, April 3, 2014

Same Old Story

One topic of the 30-Day Challenge is to write about my favorite TV show. I  don't watch much TV, but I've heard a lot of talk about the Netflix series House of Cards (HOC) so I gave it a try. Well, there went my weekend: I watched the entire first season in two days. 
Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey)
 in House of Cards

This show is thrilling, mainly because of its villain Frank Underwood, played by Kevin Spacey, one of my favorite actors. Underwood is a U.S. Congressman who gets passed over for the Secretary of State position by the newly elected president. After experiencing that disappointment and embarrassment, he begins his quest of total manipulation of all involved. He is a man with a strong determination who is aided by his equally conniving wife Claire, played by Robin Wright. This marriage is based on getting even and getting ahead at all costs. 

During my TV binge over the weekend, it occurred to me that this story is not new, just like most TV show and movie plots. HOC is the newest twist on an oldie-but-goody, classic Shakespearean play Othello with a little of Macbeth thrown in for good measure. Maybe this thought came to me because I'm presently teaching Othello, but it wasn't hard to see the similarities between the villains. 

Iago (top left) with Othello and Desdemona
In case you don't remember your Shakespeare from high school, Othello is about a Moor who is a general in the Venetian army. He does not promote one of his top soldiers, Iago, to be his lieutenant but instead chooses  another soldier, Cassio. This angers Iago, so he plots to kill Cassio and to bring about the downfall of Othello. Macbeth is about a couple, Lord and Lady M., who work tirelessly on their plan to kill the king so that Macbeth can claim the throne. 

Some of the obvious similarities between Frank Underwood and Iago are their labels as being honest men. Throughout Othello, the characters often call him "honest Iago." Underwood is an old-time, seemingly extremely loyal member of the Democratic Party who appears to be trusted by everyone. Neither of these villains has a problem killing people or getting people to do the killing for them. In the opening scene of HOC, Underwood, with his bare hands, euthanizes a dog that has been hit by a car. Underwood then tells the audience that he has no patience for useless things. In the following episodes, he brings about the downfall and/or death of many people who don't serve his purpose.

One obvious trick from Shakespeare is his use of asides, or speaking directly to the audience, in his plays. In Iago's many asides, he tells the audience his reasoning and his plans. Underwood is amazing in his asides to the audience. He looks straight into the camera and tells us exactly what he is thinking or plotting while the the action continues around him. 

The connection to Macbeth is with the wives. Lady Macbeth had to spur her husband on to get him to continue on their evil path. She had to hide the daggers, incriminate other people in the king's murder, and keep pushing on. Claire Underwood needs no urging to do evil. She seems as villainous as her husband, but like the Macbeths, the Underwoods too have a true partnership in achieving their plan. Both women have blood on their hands. (Remember the line “out, out, damned spot” spoken by Lady M.?)

Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) in House of Cards.

Lady Macbeth

highly recommend House of Cards if you love watching a villain work his cruelty while at the same time hoping he gets what he deserves. There's is too much sex and nudity in it for me, but on Netflix I can fast forward through it.

I didn’t mean for this post to turn into a comparison/contrast essay, but I guess I did it anyway. I simply couldn’t help myself. Maybe it’s just the way English teachers think about plot: it’s all the same old story.