The phrase “hoisted with his own petard” comes from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, a play that is `told in clever language but is overloaded with treachery and deceit.
The key problem of the play is that the King of Denmark, Hamlet, was murdered by his own brother, Claudius, who coveted the throne. Claudius then takes the throne as well as his dead brother’s wife as queen. Very nasty stuff. It gets nastier when the dead King’s son (also named Hamlet) receives a visit from a ghost who claims to be his father and who demands that the son revenge his father’s murder. Eewwww!
BTW, most modern interpretations of Hamlet suggest that the ghost really was his father’s spirit. It may be that Elizabethan audiences would have taken a different view – that the ghost was sent by the devil.
Claudius begins to suspect that young Hamlet knows too much and so he decides to get rid of him. Naturally! But how? He decides to send him to England in the company of two gentlemen, Rosencratnz and Guildenstern (R & G). These two unfortunates have a confidential letter that they are to give to the King of England asking that Hamlet be killed.
As an aside, one wonders whether Elizabethan audiences were surprised or shocked that the King of Denmark would believe that the King of England would gladly do this dirty deed. What would we think, for example, about Donald Trump receiving a request from Vladimir Putin to do in his nephew or one of his oligarchs? But, of course, times have changed, right?
The fun in the play begins when the voyage to England gets underway. Hamlet intercepts the letter and alters it without R & G knowing, so that it says R & G are to die. Hamlet slips away. and R & G decide that they have no choice but to continue their voyage to England to deliver the letter, not knowing that this would not end well for them.
The 20th century playwright, Tom Stoppard, thought that their plight was rather evocative. Could it be that R & G embody the great modern absurdist dilemma? Aren’t we all trapped in and doomed by an absurd culture that we cannot escape? And so he wrote his very clever 20th century play, “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.” It was first produced in 1966 to wide acclaim. Good old Tom seemed to have a point there.
So what about this “hoisting with his own petard” thing? In Elizabethan times, a petard was an explosive device one used to break into castles. It blew the castle door down. Something like this
To be hoisted with one’s own petard means the bomb maker gets blown up with his own device. Nicht gut! In Hamlet, the petard is the letter. Hamlet says
… ’tis the sport to have the enginer
Hoist with his own petar; and ‘t shall go hard
But I will delve one yard below their mines
And blow them at the moon: O, ’tis most sweet,
When in one line two crafts directly meet.
Very clever! Though, dear me, spoiler alert! Things do not end well in the play.
So what does this have to do with Donald Trump? Just before Trump was elected, Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, payed $130k in hush money to a porn star, Stormy Daniels, on behalf of Trump. Cohen later claimed that he did not ask for the money back from Trump. That was a lie. He did, and in 2017, Trump repaid Cohen. This was not revealed at first, but now these facts are no longer in dispute.
So far so good. But as a federal official, Trump was required to fill out a disclosure form if he owed the money and had repaid Cohen. He did not do that in 2017. Now the news. Trump just filed a 2018 disclosure form where he admits that he made the reimbursement payment in 2017. Ooops!
Trump says that he was not required to make that disclosure but did anyway, in the interest of transparency.. Errr … apparently transparency was not as important last year. Ah well, good luck with that argument! So now the petard , the hush money agreement, is exploding in Trump’s face. He admits what he had not admitted before, and he is tied into the Daniels messtoid as well as the absurdity and mendacity that surrounds it.
Why did Trump make this disclosure? Who knows. My best guess is that he is concerned that the FBI raid on Cohen turned up evidence that Trump knew all along about the payment to Daniels which would trap him in an even worse lie if he continues to assert that he knew nothing about it. Now we know that this was total BS. What’s more, presidential BS! The good stuff!
This is one smelly petard!.
And btw, this petard may look relatively minor compared to recent revelations about Qatari money Stay tuned on that one.
Ah the world of Trump! It’s all about money, money, money! And if there is absurdity in our modern world, it seems to me that the melodrama playing out in the White House captures it rather well. Where is our modern Shakespeare to tell the tale?