The sexual sparring between rom-com lovers Donald Trump and Stormy Daniels—previously bottled up in court—ripped open like an overflowing bodice this morning on Twitter as the president called his former lover “Horseface” and she shot back within minutes, calling him a hater of women, a devotee of bestiality and, most cruelly, “Tiny.”
They’re hopelessly in love, aren’t they?
The antecedent of this bickering, insulting relationship between a seemingly unsuited pair of lovers is the story of Beatrice and Benedick from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Beatrice and Benedick, writes scholar Penny Gay, “refuse to abide by the conventions of genteel decorum, they know their own minds (or think they do), they are not particularly respectful of authority … and they are the couple who talk, and bicker, endlessly—thus displaying to each other their intellectual energy and their compatibility.” Hollywood has remanufactured this story a thousand times, most memorably in the screwball comedies of Howard Hawks (e.g.,His Girl Friday) or George Cukor, who set Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn against each other in Pat and Mike and Adam’s Rib, or the 1980s TV hit Moonlighting, in which Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis rotate between love and hate with hot alternating-current fury.
Like many of the heroes and heroines of screwball comedy, Donald and Stormy met cute. As Ben Schreckinger reminds us in a recent feature, in July 2006 Trump was recently married to a model (a third wheel is a must for a screwball comedy) and had a newborn son. While shooting a practice round of golf at a celebrity tournament in Tahoe, he was stunned by the sight of Stormy Daniels, who was at the tournament doing publicity for her porn studio—or at least that’s how Stormy recalls the meeting. Soon, doncha know, she was riding in Trump’s golf cart and one thing led to another before she says the two were boppin’ squiddles back in his hotel room. “I want to see you again,” Trump said after they were done, according to Stormy. “When can I see you again?” (Trump has denied the affair, but admitted to paying $130,000 to Stormy as part of a nondisclosure agreement.)
On the surface, the two have nothing in common. He was to the tax-evading manner born. She grew up the child of a single mother. But look at what the pair share. Both love publicity. Both favor the vulgar. Both regard sex as an Olympic sport, or maybe even as a form of battle—he once compared his sexual exploits to the dangers of the Vietnam War. She gets her blonde hair from a bottle. So does he. Stormy says he told her that she reminded him of his daughter Ivanka (!!!!!). And both are headstrong, lippy characters, quick to fashion their words into swords to do battle.
In Much Ado About Nothing, Beatrice and Benedick are too proud to reveal their vulnerabilities to each other, so they trade verbal abuse instead. Eachround of slights and slurs convinces the audience anew that the two belong with one another. “With every exchange between the fencing lovers, the abyss glitters, and their mutual wit does not so much defend against other selves as it defends against meaninglessness,” writes Harold Bloom. The only means Beatrice and Benedick have to escape the abyss is to find each other, a process that consumes almost the entire play.
In Much Ado, Bloom adds, Beatrice is far wittier than Benedick, consistently getting the better of him in their matches. That pattern seems to hold with Stormy and Donald, too. She’s tied him down with a bundle of lawsuits and, if her account is to be believed, made his secret affairs public. Othersalvos have gone directly to Trump’s manhood. He lasted “maybe” two minutes in bed, she said, and the sex was “textbook generic”; his penis, she wrote, looks like Toad from Mario Kart. Although she sayshe continued to woo her after their original romp, calling her regularly, giving her the nickname “honeybunch,” and taking her phone calls, they never got it on again after Tahoe.
Though Stormy outwardly spurns Donald, she can’t give him up, either. She says she wasn’t attracted to him—“would you be?”—but that she was “fascinated” by him. “We had a really good banter,” she said of her night with him. “Good conversation for a couple hours. I could tell he was nice, intelligent in conversation.” All the sniping they’ve done in the press stands as a Shakespearean testament to their attraction. Her ongoing legal struggles against Trump can be read as courtship by other means.
This isn’t to argue that Donald and Stormy are perfect for each other, only that love seeks to reunite them. What would it take? In Shakespeare’s play, Beatrice and Benedick are brought together in “gulling scenes” in which friends make each believe that the other loves them deeply. This opens their hearts to romance, and after several plot complications, they unite, and the play ends, as Shakespeare’s comedies are wont to do, with marriage.
Could we accomplish such magic for our tormented pair of lovers? First we would have to write Melania out of the story, but how hard would that be? Despite her protests, she can’t be that happy with the philandering husband. His brand of transactional sex is much more Stormy’s speed, we must explain to her, and she’d be much better off matched with someone more loyal. Who’s available? Would Daniels’ attorney Michael Avenatti work as a spouse? He’s single, after all, and like Melania is a snappy dresser. What would be more satisfyingly Shakespearean than Trump’s foe becoming a part of his modern extended family?