Lincoln, on Shakespeare

We’ve certainly covered the relationship between President Abraham Lincoln and William Shakespeare previously.  So when I went to visit Ford’s Theatre, I wasn’t sure how much Shakespeare I’d find. Who am I kidding, if I’d spotted any Shakespeare at all I would have considered it a win.


I wish I could read Lincoln’s writing to learn more about the argument.  Who is this James Hackett person, and why is Lincoln having correspondence with him about Hamlet analysis? It’s one thing to hear about presidents who were in the habit of reading or quoting Shakespeare (there were a lot of them).  Here we’ve got an example of the president in active discussion about the play.  Not only that, he’s making a case not typically made (from my own personal experience).  I wonder why the President of the United States of America is making the case that King Claudius’ private admission of how heavily the guilt for his crimes weighs upon him is greater than “To be or not to be,” widely regarded as one of the greatest soliloquies in our language?  

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2 thoughts on “Lincoln, on Shakespeare

  1. I can see how Lincoln, in the middle of the Civil War, would relate especially to Claudius' soliloquy — a head of state, wracked with guilt and feeling the blood of brother(s) on his hands.
    Not that that's necessarily a good argument for its superiority, but Lincoln may have felt it speaking to him.

    also, via the Google, here's what appears to be a full transcript of the letter:

  2. Very nice find, Amy! A short letter, certainly, and not much of a clue about why he holds that particular opinion. But the context seems clear – he's writing to an actor, complimenting him on past performance, and asking whether he will come to Washington for a meeting.

    Quite the high praise for the actor! The President is writing him asking to meet? Cool.

    Also note where Lincoln states, "I think nothing equals Macbeth. It is wonderful." I'd say "You could probably write a book on something like that," but I wouldn't be surprised to discover that people already have.

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