Bannon's Shakespeare

Steve Bannon: Goldman Sachs investment banker, Hollywood film producer, executive chair of the right-wing Breitbart News, Donald Trump’s chief political strategist, economic nationalist, conservative, populist … Shakespearean playwright? In the mid-1990s, Bannon hired a Shakespearean writer named Julia Jones to help him write two absurd Shakespeare adaptations. One, titled Andronicus, is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Roman tragedy, Titus Andronicus, but set in space: the war between the Romans and the Goths becomes a war between the Andronici, beings of light and goodness, and beings of darkness and evil called the “Shades.” The other also adapts one of Shakespeare’s Roman tragedies, Coriolanus, but this one is a hip hop musical set in early 1990s South Central Los Angeles: the Romans and the Volscians become the Bloods and the Crips. With some justification, popular press coverage of these plays has focused on ridiculing them. But what if we take Bannon’s Shakespeare adaptations seriously? What can they tell us about the man which we might not pick up from a more straightforward analysis? What can the Bannon of the Shakespeare adaptations reveal to us about the campaign, presidency, and ideology of Donald Trump? These screenplays are not publicly available but, curious to see how they read from a Shakespearean perspective, I contacted Julia Jones, who generously shared the them with me, and also agreed to be interviewed for this chapter. When I sat down to read them, I expected an ode to populism. Both Titus and Coriolanus are offered leadership of Rome by the people, but both refuse (Titus because he is too old, Coriolanus because he is too proud); tragedy ensues, which I expected to form the foundation of Bannon’s adaptations: listen to the will of the people, or else. What I really discovered when I read Bannon’s adaptations of Shakespeare, however, was an insidious racism. Specifically, Bannon’s Coriolanus suggests that African-Americans will kill themselves off through black-on-black crime, while his Andronicus tells the story of a “noble race” eliminating its cultural enemies on the way to securing political power.