The Macbeths at the White House


I  have always enjoyed tv series, more than movies, actually. Once you are engaged in the plot, the protagonists become your new companions for a long time. Therefore, I’ve been walking  in the streets of N.Y. with four girls talking about sex and men and craving for a certain Mr Big for almost six years and when the series ended, I went to Seattle and bumped into gorgeous Doctor Mcdreamy at Seattle Grace Hospital. I cannot hide that I am more attracted by the sentimental on tv series, so when Shonda Rhimes, inexplicably, decided to make Doctor Mcdreamy die, I guessed it was high time to look for something else. Hence, about a month ago, my attention was surprisingly caught by a tv series, which, I may say, is really far from being regarded sentimental, but rather, deals with the darkest and wicked side of human nature, one of the most prizewinning drama series ever, as a matter of fact: House of Cards.

hc5Based on the novel of Michael Dobbs, House of Cards is  the U.S. adaptation of the U.K. miniseries of the same name.The story of Claire (Robin Wright) and congressman Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey) is set in Washington and mostly in the secret chambers of the White House. Disappointed for not having been appointed Secretary of State as promised by the President Garret Walker in exchange for his support, Francis and Clare make a pact to destroy Walker and his allies.  The great protagonist of this series is, actually, the boundless ambition of the couple, who plots for a position of greater power using whatever means possible; ambition that won’t be yet satisfied even when Francis eventually succeeds in achieving the presidency of the U.S.A. . The story was so involving that Mr Run and I found ourselves galloping in a marathon made of 39 episodes that we were able to conclude in the record time of only a couple of weeks. However, while I eagerly followed the events, I couldn’t but find the dynamics of this couple somehow familiar, as if I had already known those guys, till, in a scene, when I saw Claire’s ruthless determination in aiding and encouraging her husband as he seemed to falter, I recognized them both. Hidden under that allure and fancy clothes, here they were again: the Macbeths.

hc8The Underwoods like the Macbeths are devoted only to one god: power. The crown of Scotland becomes the presidency of the U.S.A. here. The White House is Francis and Claire’s playground, where the people, who somehow are connected to them, are cards, whose only function is to make them win the game, but they do not hesitate to throw them away, as soon as they are no longer useful. Merciless, manipulative, the Underwoods don’t know the word gratitude and their success is the result of a perfect symbiosis which does not follow the rules and moral of common couples. “I made you president“, Claire reminds her husbands at a certain point, but those words could have come from Lady Macbeth’s lips as well : without her support, Macbeth would be still there, trembling, talking nonsense and with the evidence of the murder of King in his hands. Yes, she had made him king.

hc7The Underwoods like the Macbeths are a childless couple. These two women don’t give the impression  of having  have a real motherly attitude, as they only seem to be willing to nourish their plans of power and revenge: “I have given suck, and know/how tender ’tis love the babe that milks me ” Lady Macbeth says referring to the plan to kill king Duncan. Her murderous plan is being personified as a baby nursing on her evil soul.  However, while Macbeth and lady Macbeth’s inability to have children affects their relationship negatively and it is one of the factors that plays a part in the decline of their relationship, motherhood has never been part of the plans of the Underwoods, who don’t seem to display any real regret, at least, not yet.

hc1Differently from Macbeth and any Shakespearian play, in House of Cards there is not the eternal battle of good versus evil. In fact, all the characters of the series, with different degrees and no exception, are predatory, cruel and inhuman like the wolves of the Latin proverb  “Homo, homini,  lupus”  ( “a man is a wolf to another man”). In Macbeth , for example, King Duncan’s benevolent, virtuous nature makes Macbeth’s murder more infamous and reprehensible if possible, while in the series, the equivalent of Duncan, president Garret Walker, is two-faced, weak and even ingenuous sometimes, hence unworthy to rule. The political murder plotted by the Underwoods, therefore, can’t have the same moral meaning of Macbeth’s action and you cannot but stay by their side, enjoying the company of the wolves and why not, even becoming one of them.

hc6Clare Underwood and Lady Macbeth have in common an exceptional, burning ambition, but while the latter eventually becomes mentally deranged when the pace of events becomes too much for her, for the former, being the wife of the President is not enough to satisfy her thirst of power. She wants more, therefore her ambition seems to mine the stability of the couple in season 3 and we have to wait for 2016 to know more. In the meantime, would you be so kind to suggest me a new tv series worthy of my attention? Thanks 🙂



34 thoughts on “The Macbeths at the White House

  1. Great post, Stefy. I haven’t seen the Spacey version but we did watch the memorable 1990 BBC series that it was based on, with Ian Richardson’s truly Machiavellian and creepy prime minister Francis Urquhart (“F you” no doubt to his friends). I don’t recall any Macbeth resonances in the original but, though they may have been there, Richardson’s scheming presence dominated all to the virtual exclusion of most of the supporting cast.

  2. The original series is better in some ways, but different because it gives only a small role to Francis’ wife. I liked the new one at first, but had to stop watching eventually because as you say, every single character is horrible. It just got to be too much of a downer.

    • Another reason to see the original series. I actually like the third season less than the first two. I found a little boring and uncertain the attention on Clare’s pshychology. What’s wrong with her? Menopause, need of a child or envious for the power of her husband? It seems as if who wrote the script did not exactly know what to do with this character in season 3 . Will see.

  3. Mrs Tink ! I was missing one of your analysis. Comparing Shakespeare Macbeth with the other character of a modern series like house of cards ,by the way that picture of the blond woman that says “seduce him, give him your heart, cut it out and put it in his fucking hands”, freaking scared me, looks like you and a teacher swearing…, that was, was, was actually quite sexy. Anyways, great comparison.

  4. Stefy I am afraid I must admit I don’t watch TV. It is at times such as these when I feel a bit like an alien from another planet. However yu powerful as a teacher to be able to draw these modern day comparisons to Macbeth. Brilliant!

  5. I’m with Chris, Stefy — The Ian Richardson version is excellent (better, I think, than HBO’s transplant to inside the Beltway). But you might just want to wait until Spacey’s 12 (?!?) seasons bring down his house of cards before you watch the earlier version (meanwhile, listen to Radiohead’s “House of Cards” from *In Rainbows*). As for alternatives: Stephen Fry’s *Kingdom*, Alan Davies’ *Whites*, Tom Hollander’s *Rev.*

  6. Netflix hit a home run with this series; in short it is Shakespearean, Machiavellian, and Faustian in its exploration of the depths of human hubris, unbridled power, and terrifying evil. Another wonderful, and addictive, series from Netflix is Narcos that follows the rise of power of the world’s most nefarious drug kingpin. Cheers, Alex.

  7. I am planning to watch this series on Netflix as soon as I am done with third season of The Borgias… thanks for the post… I now want to watch it even more…
    Sending best wishes, dear Stefy. Aquileana 🐉☀️

    • It is a must , Aquileana. You’ll love it, believe me. I’ve seen only the first season of the Borgias, but since you enjoy tricks, plots etc. House of Cards is the series for you. You’ll tell me. Super hugs, dear Aquileana.
      Stefy 😀

  8. I haven’t seen the series with Kevin Spacey, but I really admire him as an actor and got even more enamoured when I saw him playing the harmonica in the tribute to Billy Joel, playing in Hey, Mr Piano Man. I did watch the original series made in the UK, stunning! Do watch it if you can, his wife may have had a small role but she comes to the fore right at the end. A real twist!

  9. I saw Spacey on stage as Richard III a few years ago, and it’s fascinating to see some of the same undertones in Frances Underwood. And you’re right about the Macbeth echoes . . . The CBS Elementary is another essential series: superb tight scripts, New York, Jonny Miller and Lucy Liu – what’s not to like?

  10. I enjoyed your take on the series. I enjoyed the episodes up until the middle of season 3, when it was a single thread of story. Clare had something about her that I found oddly fragile. The character is so tightly wound and controlled I wondered if Robin Wright would simply collapse under the strain. It’s not a lack of emotion that I found fascinating, it was her ability to notice them, and amplify or mute them to suit any situation. xo

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