Date of Award


Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Political Science, PhD


School of Social Science, Politics, and Evaluation

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

John Channing Briggs

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Christopher Nadon

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Charles R. Kesler

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

James H. Nichols, Jr.

Terms of Use & License Information

Terms of Use for work posted in Scholarship@Claremont.

Rights Information

© 2024 Ted Jones Richards


Divine Right, Lincoln, Literature as Political Philosophy, Macbeth, Mirror for Princes, Shakespeare

Subject Categories

History of Philosophy | Literature in English, British Isles | Literature in English, North America | Political Science


This dissertation demonstrates that Abraham Lincoln’s self-education in the works of William Shakespeare substantially animates his thought and statesmanship, that Lincoln’s political philosophy is indelibly etched with Shakespeare’s influence. The project begins with an introduction, justifying this thesis and explaining the methodology. The paper’s justification relies on several important Shakespeare references in Lincoln’s speeches and writings. I analyze those references, comparing them to their original context, and thereby demonstrate Lincoln’s impressive grasp of Shakespeare, and Shakespeare’s deep influence on Lincoln. Once I establish this, I begin a series of thematic chapters on the basis of these references and their import, often referring to such references in approaching Lincoln and Shakespeare more obliquely. In the thematic studies there is a special emphasis on Macbeth , Lincoln’s self-identified favorite play. Additionally, those chapters approach Lincoln’s understanding of their respective subjects by way of accounts given in political philosophy. They provide definitional touchstones for the comparisons in Lincoln and Shakespeare. This project includes, in addition to the introduction and chapter on Lincoln’s Shakespeare references, a chapter on Lincoln’s understanding of ambition and prudence as compared with that of Hobbes, Aristotle, and Shakespeare. It focuses primarily on Lincoln’s statements on the subjects compared with Shakespeare’s account of each in Macbeth . Next comes a chapter on Lincoln’s marriage and its influence on his life and career. Mary Todd Lincoln is compared favorably to Lady Macbeth, among others. That chapter draws out the important role wives have always played in the lives and careers of their husbands. Examples from both Aristotle and Tocqueville support those of Mary Todd and Lady Macbeth. The final substantive chapter discusses Lincoln and Shakespeare’s views of divine and natural right in light of John Neville Figgis, King James, and Leo Strauss’ writings on the topics. The chapter uses Richard II, Macbeth , and King Lear as the primary basis for comparison. The connection between the two are as antagonisms. Lincoln places natural right as a stand in for rightness and right simply (as it upholds republican government) and divine right as wrong simply (as it provides sophistical support for the unjust rule of one man over others without their consent). A throughline is found in the concept of “trial by combat” in both Shakespeare and the Civil War: is it the naturally righteous or those favored by God or providence who conquer? This chapter combs carefully through this question, among others. The light of Shakespeare’s genius serves to increase the brightness of Lincoln’s own flame. Joining them as this project has done improves our understanding of Shakespeare’s political thought as we learn from Lincoln’s approach to reading and using him. Other students of politics benefit from Lincoln’s example, and the reader gains greater appreciation for Shakespeare as a teacher of statesman. This compounded source of light also enhances our view of Lincoln. Studying the key texts in which Lincoln expressed interest enriches our understanding of his ideas. Lincoln’s view of human nature (including ambition and prudence), his understanding of marriage, and his conception of divine and natural right sovereignty benefit from the light of Shakespeare’s insight. The result is not merely greater knowledge of those ideas, but an increased appreciation for his legacy as a whole. The discreet topics of the chapters coalesce, disclosing new points of interest in their relationships and an emerging coherence in the legacy of Lincoln. The man emerges in greater complexity and power. His rhetoric and manner of thinking take on a distinctly Shakespearean caste, endowing his already estimable life and thought with greater dignity.