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When Politicians Turn to Shakespeare

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Rep. Jared Polis borrowed from the Bard a few weeks ago when expressing disdain for his colleagues’ descriptions of the cuts in the 2011 spending agreement as “historic.”

When Members of Congress take the stage at the Shakespeare Theatre’s ninth annual Will on the Hill event on Monday, some of them will already know their lines by heart. 

Rep. Jared Polis, for one, borrowed from the Bard a few weeks ago when expressing disdain for his colleagues’ descriptions of the cuts in the 2011 spending agreement as “historic.”

“As the Bard put it, the cutting in this bill is a lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing,” the Colorado Democrat said during an April 13 floor debate.

Polis is not the only member of Congress who enjoys employing some of Shakespeare’s most famous lines in floor speeches and debates. Here are a few more examples:

The Sound and The Fury

It may not come as a surprise that the famous phrase from “Macbeth” is one of the most popular among members of the legislative branch.

In the play, the words are spoken by Macbeth in a soliloquy; “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

In Congress, the word “idiot” is usually left out, though perhaps sometimes implied. 

Like Polis, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) also used the line during the recent spending battle. “Again, is the debate over spending just another Republican and Democratic squabble? Is it just an attempt to gain political advantage? Sound and fury signifying nothing?” he said on April 4.

It was also used by Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) to criticize an Iraq War Resolution in 2007. “This resolution is not serious,” he said. “It is a political ploy rather than a principled position. It is sound and fury that signifies nothing.”

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) used the line when he opposed language considered by the Senate in March 2007 that would have begun the pull-out of U.S. forces from Iraq within 120 days, “Ultimately, it will be a lot of sound and fury that signifies nothing but, more importantly, that accomplishes nothing and may do harm,” he said. 

Thou Doth Protest Too Much

Another popular line during debate is drawn from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” In July 2009, then-Rep. Michael Arcuri (D-N.Y.) used it when responding to criticisms of a Democratic measure that required new legislation to be budget-neutral. After Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) passionately criticized the Democrats’ efforts, Arcuri said, simply, “Methinks thou doth protest too much.”

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