Audiophile: Listen Smarter

A Shakespeare scholar examines the Bard's influence in House of Cards

Ben Pomeroy
April 21, 2014
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The Netflix drama House of Cards is gripping, dark, and twisted, pitting complex characters against each other in their respective quests for power. And if that rings a bell for you, you're not alone.

The show's captivating themes of ambition, jealousy, and political Machiavellianism can also be found in the plays of one William Shakespeare. Indeed, even the most casual reader of the English playwright might have detected an echo of his most famous characters — a hint of Richard the III and Iago in Frank Underwood, perhaps? Or a whiff of Lady MacBeth in Claire Underwood? — in the modern political drama.

But there's so much more to the Shakespeare connection, according to Katherine Rowe, who is a professor of English at Bryn Mawr College, a Shakespeare scholar, and a devourer of House of Cards. Rowe has helped adapt the Bard's work to the digital age as the co-founder of Luminary Digital Media, which collaborates with the Folger Shakespeare Library to bring Shakespeare's plays to the iPad.

In this podcast, Rowe diagrams scenes with Claire and Frank Underwood, points out Shakespeare-inspired inside jokes, and discusses the power of Frank's signature theatrical device — the direct address — in which he imparts "privileged knowledge" to viewers.

Listen up and squirrel away some high-level literary bombs for your next cocktail party.

Spoiler Alert: This interview includes revealing plot points for Season 2.

Learn more about Katherine Rowe, the Luminary Digital Media, and the Folger Shakespeare Library.