Day 23: Iago Enters the “House of Cards”

Last season, I noted a striking similarity between Shakespeare’s devious couple, the Macbeths and the political duo, Frank and Claire Underwood from Netflix’s dramatic series House of Cards.

For Season Two, I would like to add an additional comparison to another Shakespeare character: Iago from the tragedy Othello. The character Iago is the master of duplicity. Pretending to be a loyal and trusted confidant, Iago convinces the Moor Othello that his new bride Desdemona is unfaithful and should be strangled in her bed. With as little evidence as a handkerchief, Iago destroys Othello’s trust in his wife with insinuation and innuendos. Within days, Othello murders Desdemona and, discovering he has been duped, commits suicide. Iago is left wounded, but alive.

In season two, Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) is the Iago who makes a sly insinuations and innuendos about the President’s secretary.  As the Vice-President’s wife, she ingratiates herself as a BBF to the naive First Lady Tricia Walker (Joanna Going in Season 2). Once Claire has Tricia’s ear, she begins a subtle campaign of destruction aimed at the President’s new secretary Christina Gallagher (Kristen Connolly).  Claire casually mentions that Christina had an intimate relationship with her previous boss, Representative Peter Russo before he was found dead of carbon monoxide poisoning. Add Christina’s good looks to the mix, and Tricia is easily made anxious with this information.

Claire’s private conversations with Tricia are peppered with expressions of sympathy and caring:

  • Just a suggestion…
  • Let me know if you change your mind…
  • As your friend…
  • Because I care about you…

Claire works another angle as well by baiting the ambitious Christina. Acting on Claire’s suggestion, Christina awkwardly offers to make herself available in any way  to help the president. Tricia is taken aback by Christina’s offer, interpreting such a desire to help the president as a domestic threat. Not long after, Tricia is demanding the president fire Christina and hire a different secretary. He refuses, and by episode 22, Claire has driven the distraught Tricia to seek marital help with her confused husband, President Walker, in tow.

One can hear Claire channeling Iago’s lines from Othello:

Work on,
My medicine, work! Thus credulous fools are caught;
And many worthy and chaste dames even thus,
All guiltless, meet reproach. — (4.1.43-46)



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