Friday, September 14, 2007

Bill Belichick, Shakespearean Villain

Corruption of power is the most Shakespearean of themes. When we see corrupt leaders, we must again turn to Shakespeare, for he understood them better than anyone else (as he understood just about everything about humanity better than anyone else).

The Bard foresaw Bill Belichick, and named him Claudius.

Let us turn to Hamlet, that great masterwork of the English language, to get beneath all that Bill Belichick's fall from grace is. Belichick is a corrupt, paronoid, powerful man, like the villain of Hamlet, Claudius.

At the beginning of Hamlet, after his father's funeral Hamlet wishes to return to Wittenberg to study. Claudius doesn't let him:

For your intent
In going back to school in Wittenberg,
It is most retrograde to our desire,
And we beseech you bend you to remain
Here in the cheer and comfort of our eye,
Our chiefest courtier, cousin, and our son (I. ii. 112-117)

Think upon Belichick's treatment of Eric Mangini when the assistant coach wished to leave Belichick to become head coach of the Jets. It seems Mangini's move was "retrograde to [Belichick's] desire," and Belichick treated Mangini poorly for his decision. Like Claudius for Hamlet, Belichick doesn't entirely trust Mangini. Hamlet is clever and could bring down Claudius from the throne--he thus must be kept near so Claudius can monitor him. Belichick knew that Mangini could take him down from his throne, King of the AFC East. He didn't want to let him get away from his own watch.

Claudius is also madly paranoid. He sends Rosencratz and Guildenstern, those hapless victims of fate, to spy on Hamlet. He sends Ophelia to spy on Hamlet, perhaps dooming her. He sends Hamlet away to England to be executed. And in the final scene, Claudius wants to be so sure that Hamlet dies, he makes sure that not only are the swords used in the duel poisoned, but the wine that Hamlet might drink from is poisoned too (and while the Hamlet is killed, so are Laertes and Gertrude, ultimately leading to Claudius's own demise).

Consider Belichick's paranoia. His team was massively better than the Jets. the Patriots could easily have stomped all over the Jets. The Patriots will still be massively superior to the Jets the next time the two teams meet. There's no reason to cheat: he should have them beat anyway. Videotaping the Jets' coaching signals is akin to saying "The swords aren't enough: let's poison the wine, too." So paranoid in his attempts to destroy opposition is Belichick that he overdoes it, ultimately bringing himself down.

Claudius feels guilty for murdering Hamlet's father. He cannot, however, sincerely repent, for he knows he is still enjoying the spoils of his crime:

"Forgive me my foul murther?"
That cannot be, since I am still possess'd
Of those effects for which I did the murther:
My crown, mine own ambition, my queen. (III. iii. 52-55)

And now Belichick apologizes for cheating. But can he really repent when he still posesses the effects of his cheating: wins, prestige, success, power, money? Let Shakespeare judge.

And so Shakespeare gave us Belichick before Belichick: a leader paranoid of all who could undo him, a leader poisonously deceptive in achieving his own ends, a leader whose repentence cannot be sincere as he enjoys the spoils of his crime.

(Quotes are taken from The Riverside Anthology of Literature, ed. Douglas Hunt, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1988. See this post for the inspiration here).


  1. how funny because i always saw claudius as acting sensibly-- understanding hamlet was onto him and deciding he needed to keep his power at any cost. paranoid would be hamlet going about life without trying to mouse trap claudius and claudius assuming hamlet was trying to kill him for the throne, which would've been a reasonable fear too perhaps. i was thinking more macbeth but i haven't read that play in 7 years.


  2. Anonymous7:47 PM

    Great post, and with your permission, I'd like to link to it over at one of the irrational threads taking place at Football Outsiders on this matter.