BOOKS
10/16/2013 07:32 am ET

Obama Could Learn A Thing Or Two From 'Hamlet'

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President Obama is a well-read guy. His Facebook lists his favorite books as "Song of Solomon" by Toni Morrison, "Moby Dick" by Herman Melville, and Shakespeare's tragedies ("Macbeth," "King Lear," and, of course, "Hamlet.")

Of course, we appreciate his apparent love of literature, but we think, based on his decisions (or lack thereof) as of late, he could stand to re-read a few of his faves -- "Hamlet" in particular -- and cull through them for practical takeaways.

The Internet seems to believe that Obama and Prince Hamlet have a lot in common (see: here, here, and here). Most criticisms focus on his indecision, but we don't think the analogy ends there. Here are a few tips he could learn from one of his favorite books:

Be more decisive.

Much of the recent criticism of Obama has been focused on his inability to make a clear decision regarding foreign affairs -- he's been labeled "weak" or "hesitant" during debate over authorizing potential military action in Syria.. We're sure Hamlet could relate; his famous soliloquy isn't the only time he contemplates both sides of an issue a little too heavily.

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Think less, act more.

"Hamlet" is Shakespeare's longest play. That's not to say that it involves more twists and turns of plot, more characters, or more historical complexities. Rather, the four-hour performance (nearly twice as long as a standard Shakespearean tragedy) reveals its themes, and Hamlet's motives within its many soliloquies. Basically, Hamlet does a whole lot of thinking, and not a whole lot of doing. This would also accurately describe Obama's approach to a number of issues he's claimed to value, such as gun control.

He has eloquently expressed his support for families and victims of the tragedies that have occurred during his presidency, namely the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. But he's failed to transform these sentiments into satisfying preventative action, though that's thanks in large part to a Congress that has proven unwilling to move on even the most basic of reform efforts.".

Privacy is important.

Hamlet famously sighs that the world is a prison, simultaneously alluding to his own mind, and the continuous spying that occurs throughout the play. Even Hamlet's friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, are sent by Claudius to check on his mental state -- essentially, they spy on him. This doesn't end well for anyone, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern included. Obama could take this outcome into consideration when deciding which components of NSA spying are absolutely "essential."

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Don't try to please everyone.

Before his reelection, Obama's desire to please both Republicans and Democrats was chalked up to strategy. But now that his position is secure for the next few years, his commitment to politeness is perplexing. Critics often call him too much of a centrist; The New Yorker has described him as "more popular than his policies." But when there's a goal you're looking to accomplish -- one that isn't considered ideal to everyone, like, say, health care reform -- you're unlikely to achieve it while also winning a popularity contest.

Polonius warns against this behavior when stating (albeit ironically), "This above all: to thine own self be true/ And it must follow, as the night the day/ Thou canst not then be false to any man."

Some things are simpler than you think.

Hamlet knows that Claudius killed his father, yet he institutes a very strange and time-consuming test, you know, just to be sure. He stages a play within a play, reenacting his father's death, and gauges Claudius's reaction to the performance. When Claudius gets up and leaves, Hamlet decides that his beliefs have been confirmed. Arbitrary much? He could have saved a whole lot of time if he went with his gut on this one (or the ghost of his dead father telling him that Claudius was a murderer). Likewise, Obama allowed "ghosts of the Iraq war" to complicate his ability to make a choice regarding Syria.

"Neither a borrower nor a lender be."

Polonius's advice to his son, Laertes, is, "Neither a borrower nor a lender be; For loan oft loses both itself and friend, And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry." Obama's fiscally conservative critics may agree that he could take this advice into account when approaching government spending.

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