House of Cards’ Shakespearean Playbook

Patrick Harbron

Its hard to find a review that doesnt point out the Shakespearean undertones of House of Cards, which returned to Netflix on February 14. But how much has the saga of Beltway skulduggery actually taken from the Bard?

Break the Fourth Wall

The thrill of Richard III comes from the title character’s conspiratorial asides to the audience. Kevin Spacey’s Frank Underwood proves a worthy heir to Shakespeare’s greatest villain.

Marry Someone Crazier Than You Are

Lady Macbeth, meet Claire Underwood, played by recent Golden Globe winner Robin Wright. Frank: “I want him obliterated.” Claire: “More than that. Let’s make him suffer.”

Sleep Your Way Into Power

Frank shacks up with young-gun reporter Zoe Barnes, happily noting that he’s old enough to be her father. Hamlet ’s King Claudius—who killed his brother to marry his sister-in-law—would be proud.

Have Your Allies Do the Dirty Work for You

Frank takes cues from Iago, Othello’s dastardly manipulator, asking, “What’s better than a blank slate in the right hands?”

When All Else Fails, Murder

Brutus assassinates Julius Caesar for the good of the Republic (and his career) but is haunted by the dictator’s ghost. Frank’s “necessary” murder of Representative Peter Russo in Season One similarly shakes our narrator.