One thing about William Shakespeare, he never met a human being he couldn’t bump up into an archetype. His characters were never just people. That’s not how his brain worked. He looked for meaning and played with life by asking questions. What if Sophocles’ idea of the tragic hero could be tweaked, maybe turned upside down, and used to show how we grubby human beings fall short of anything like true heroism? What if a sociopath were to be dropped into the middle of unreflective, morally complacent people—who would win? What if an ambitious man were suddenly shown a short-cut to real power, how would he handle it? Shakespeare populated his world with people faced with moral, ethical, and emotional problems and moved them on his chessboard while he worked out his answers. In the end, his “answers” had to be partial because unknowable things can be resolved only in the acceptance that “the rest is silence.” But what a journey he took us on.Shakespeare took his characters where he found them: from history books, from the ranks of the royal courtiers, from everyday people around him. He turned every one into a moral or intellectual lesson. He found no shortage of material in sixteenth-century England, just as he would find no shortage now. The world is still populated by the same greedy, unaware, willfully ignorant, morally complacent, and unreflective types. He would understand modern politics because he had seen it all before.For example, he wrote about a king who confused the power of his position with his personal authority. “A dog’s obeyed in office,” was the sad lesson that king had to learn. He could have been writing about George Bush. But the lesson he might have drawn from the Bush administration is that just because one has the power to do something (like invade another country) does not mean one should. At the end of the Shakespeare play, the stage is littered with the bodies of the king’s family (you can never just remove a targeted piece of evil like Saddam Hussein, Shakespeare told us, everyone must suffer in the process). The stage at the end of the Bush drama is littered with the deaths of thousands of people who gave their lives abroad and the near death of our economy. A dram of evil, indeed. What would he have made of Bill Clinton? Here was a man capable of doing good and admirable in so many ways, yet brought down by his own weaknesses. The tragic flaw, Shakespeare might have pointed out, was just as Sophocles described it. The rueful Clinton, apparently having learned his lesson, now says he indulged in a sordid affair “because he could.” Prime Shakespeare material.Or how about the swath of Tea Party candidates? “A flag upon the waters,” Shakespeare would have said. He never liked popular movements anyway. He didn’t trust the people not to be ignorant and just go for popularity.All in all, Shakespeare wrote about the highest levels of authority. His subjects were courtiers, those who were pawns to those in power, women who encouraged murder but wanted to be blameless, parents who destroyed their children, and psychopaths who ruined others just for the experience. Today he easily could find comparable if not exact duplicates. With the internet, he would only need to read the headlines.So, Shakespeare was fascinated by the getting, the keeping, the abusing, and the losing of political advantage. Politics and history were his natural milieu. He showed us the truth of Santayana’s comment that those unaware of the past are doomed to repeat it. As we head into yet another election cycle, it would behoove us to remember this cynical and yet hopeful observer of huamanity, one who would advise us that nothing is new under the sun. We could do a lot worse than to go back and and reread his plays.