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Sage Political Advice from Shakespeare's Plays

Posted: 11/01/2012 12:37 pm

From the adage-filled tragedy Hamlet to the pastoral comedy As You Like It, the Bard's plays are veritable gold mines of advice for politicians -- and the body politic.

With only a few days left for would-be electoral winners to wow the voting public, they might consider these words of wisdom for office seekers of every stripe, taken straight from Shakespeare himself.

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  • 1. "Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice" and "Give thy thoughts no tongue." -- Hamlet

    Modern-day translation: Listen up, and think before you speak. Politicians tend to suffer from foot-in-mouth disease, whether it's fulminating over flimsy facts or saying something doltish during a televised debate. Heed the Bard's advice and you just might avoid the kind of verbal slip-up that turns into the sound bite of the century. (The "47 percent" can probably all agree on this one.)

  • 2. "Come, sir, leave me your snatches and yield me a direct answer." -- Measure for Measure

    Modern-day translation: Enough with the rhetoric -- get to the point, already! Digressing from the topic at hand is many a politico's favorite pastime, whether he or she is attempting to evade the point entirely or just using it as an opportunity to hammer home a favorite talking meme. But here's "the rub": when you fail to actually respond to the question asked, one can only surmise you don't know the answer.

  • 3. "The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool." -- As You Like It

    Modern-day translation: Don't be a know-it-all. Astute politicians play to their strengths, yet remain fully aware of their weaknesses. Start by admitting you don't know everything, and then, rather than hiring a bunch of sycophants, surround yourself with wise counsel -- smart people who aren't afraid to give you an unvarnished answer.

  • 4. "An honest tale speeds best, being plainly told." -- Richard III

    Modern-translation: KISS (Keep it simple, stupid). Pundits sometimes scoffed at the "folksy" jargon of former president Bill Clinton, but it inevitably scored verbal points with constituents. (Exhibit A: the catchy phrase "it's arithmetic" from the DNC.) The bottom line? You have to know when to ditch the fancy rhetorical flourishes and double down on austerity... in this case, straight talk.

  • 5. And keep you in the rear of your affection, Out of the shot and danger of desire." -- Hamlet

    Modern-day translation: Keep calm and carry on. Remember the old adage "take a deep breath and count to ten?" At times, our politicians would do well to give themselves a "time out," too. While playing the mild-tempered milquetoast is hardly the way to go, neither is acting like a petulant pit bull (as the recent debates proved). Show real conviction, but keep cool under the collar, and rather than "going to the mattresses," <em>Godfather</em>-style, how about going to the corner, instead? Congressman Brad Sherman, take note.

  • 6. "We must speak by the card or equivocation will undo us." -- Hamlet

    Modern day translation: Stick to the facts. With real-time fact-checking available to everyone -- including head-in-the-game debate moderators -- you'll likely be called out on minor inaccuracies, embarrassing gaffes (binders full of women, anyone?), or major whoppers, as the case may be. Know your stuff, lest the talking heads seize the chance to shout, "Liar, liar, pants on fire," and, when in doubt, refer back to our first piece of advice.

Kim Askew and Amy Helmes are authors of the Shakespeare-inspired YA series Twisted Lit, featuring Tempestuous and Exposure