Fidel Castro Versus Shakespeare – Who did it better?

to be or not

In Henry 6 part 2, Jack Cade attempts to overthrow the crown by means of a peasant’s revolt.  According to Che Guevara’s Guerilla Warfare manual, Jack Cade had two fundamental aspects on the conduct of revolutionary movement which should have secured a victory: popular forces and an active insurrection, though, Cade fails due to a lack of proper relation between the peasants and because of his poor leadership skills. 

In order to better understand why it is that the peasants revolt failed in this fictional revolt, I will compare it to an actual revolt that did succeed, the Cuban revolution of 1953.  This was the “Movimiento revolucionario 26 de Julio”, when Fidel Castro mounted hi first armed challenge against Fulgencio Batista. Although Shakespeare’s revolution never really occurred, it does mimic true revolutionary ideas and movements, and although, there are infinite perspectives to analyze in any revolution, this work will only attempt to illuminate the necessity for a strong leader and a “healthy mob” in order to produce a victory in Shakespeare’s play.  

Vector illustration of a blooding clenched fist held high in protest.

With the importance of a strong leader in mind, a comparison of Cuba’s revolutionary leader, Fidel Castro with Jack Cade is necessary.  Fidel Castro can be considered a good revolutionary leader because unlike Cade who fled the battle and starved to death, Castro not only fought but he accomplished his usurpation.  We first see a sign of Cade’s selfishness when he grants himself the power to “knight” himself in order to do battle with Sir Humphrey Stafford (H6P2 4.2.118). Castro on the other hand, was convincing fellow revolutionaries in Cuba to sacrifice buying food and cigarettes so that they could purchase rifles and bullets (Santamaria 24). At the climax of Cade’s rebellion, Cade loses the crowd and runs off, as opposed to Castro who led the first assault against the Batista regime, stood and fought until he was captured (Hansen34).  After Castro was exiled, he left for Mexico where he would organize another attack on the regime to liberate Cuba; he continues to fight, unlike Cade who just gives up the fight without even attaining enough strength to take care of himself. Cade still had the popular forces on his side because the movement was unsatisfied with the monarchy; its just that he completely gave up! Instead of reminding the peasants of their claims to land and educational reform, le laments:

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“Was ever feather so lightly blown to and fro as this multitude?  The name of Henry the Fifth hales them to an hundred mischief’s’ and makes them leave me desolate.  I see them lay their heads together to surprise me. My sword make way for me, for here is no staying”

Rebellion of Jack Cade
Rebellion of Jack Cade

This passage can be conferred directly with Jack Cade, the one whose mind was also swayed like a feather, to and fro.  He uses his sword to make way for his exit when he should have aimed it towards the monarchy. After all, he would have to fight to the death regardless- why not die for what was originally intended to be the cause (4.8.56).  Cade should have mustered his last strengths and “appealed to the revolutionary will of the people as the final authority in questions of government” (Hansen 36). So if cade were in a stronger, who was in the battle for the duration of the fight, and by conferring his advantages with Che Guevarra’s ideologies (popular forces with an active insurrection), Cade should have succeeded. 


Along with a leaders’ influence on the revolution, one can also compare supportive persons within each movement as types of reference from which we can gather perspectives from the mobs themselves.  In this instance, a more dynamic view of the different mindsets in each revolution adds color and context to the two different rebellions. For example, Craig Bernthal states in Jack Cade’s Legal Carnival, that Dick the butcher and Smith who are rebels fighting for Cade and are “very sophisticated about Cade’s pretensions [yet] mock him through heavy-sided asides” (260).  With this statement one can deduce that the Shakespearean rebels were well aware of the problems but they didn’t believe in their leader. Dick the butcher then begins the campaign with: “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers” (4.2.75).  Dick the butcher is instigating a cause that he does not fully understand to the extent that he should before propelling innocent people to their deaths; he acts spontaneously out of certain disdain that he has towards the treatment of the lower class.  Bernthal is correct in saying that they “articulate legitimate abuses”, but their lack of methods of embodying this ‘cause’ in a logical manner fails, thus, leading their revolt to crumble from within (259). Contrast to Dick the butcher and his ideologies, a supportive character from the Cuban revolt must also be compared. During the first assault led by Castro against Batista, Haydee Santamaria played an important role in the assault at Moncada, Cuba, and remained an iconic figure just as Dick the butcher’s lines play an integral part to his character.  Haydee Santamaria was a supporter of the Castro movement from the start, in a time when “the bomb and the bullet were ballots”, and when “students were revolutionaries almost by definition” (Santamaria 21).  Santamaria recalls the days when they would cook for ten rebels and 20 would show up, but they were all happy to share because they understood the ‘cause’ and the necessity for teamwork (25). The Cuban rebels that launched the initial assault were well informed and knew exactly where their duty lay; they took care of each other first. This is why having strong, intellectual supportive characters are important; the revolution is only as strong as its weakest link.  By understanding the supportive characters in each movement, we can shed some light on the virtues of the people and their true motives, in order to understand why a healthy mob is crucial for winning.  


Once the importance of leadership and teamwork are accounted for, the importance of politics comes into question.  Both popular forces fought for a reform that was driven by the un-satisfactions of the people towards their governments.  Geraldo Sousa, author of The Peasants Revolt and the Writing of History in 2 Henry VI, focuses his attention on Shakespeare’s use of literacy and how it conflates with power; and this was what Cade’s rebellion was fighting against – the use of literacy to oppress a people.  Sousa asserts that Shakespeare constitutes “something deeper than a meditation on English society; he closely studies the connection between writing, history and power” (181). Jack Cade is seen as the aggressor of the ink pen and literacy.  The Poor cannot read and write legal records, which places them under the pedestal of the aristocrats and submits the illiterate to their service. Sousa also suggests that “questions of literacy are thus inextricably bound up with questions of power” (179). And it is this issue on illiteracy which leads to land reform. In comparison, we have Castor’s rebellion which was also combating a corrupt government who hoarded all of the power in a feudalistic sense- that is to say that it was limited to the privileged.  In addition to “the illegal evicting of people from their property, which is precisely the complaint of the first petitioner in act 1” in Shakespeare’s play the Cuban’s were also very, very clear about wanting land reform (Bernthal 262). After Castro was caught and imprisoned, he was allowed a trial where he plead “a passionate defense of the right of a people to revolt against oppression” (Hansen 36).


Also what is evident from both revolts is the necessity to kill the opposition in order to attain any type of reform or change;  this is also where the difference between a healthy mob and an unhealthy mob lay. In the Cade rebellion, which Bernthal describes as “carnival: ‘an astonishingly consistent oppression of anarchy by clowning’”, we witness instances where the mob is bloodthirsty and murder under absurd circumstances (259).  In respects to the murdering of Emmanuel by the mob, Bernthal asserts that this was an attack against “records and recorders whose presence permitted and promoted the oppressive collection of revenues” (266). Cade rebels were fighting against illiteracy, but it was their way of proving their point which would render their actions as carnival or foolish.  The rebels seem to think that the proper way to win land reform is by destroying the records, but the more logical route would be to make education open to the masses. And this issue is addressed in Act 4, scene 7, when Cade sends Lord Say to his death because he supposedly has “corrupted the youth of the realm in erecting a grammar school” (line 35). Cade then charges him with sending men to prison because they could not read and then accuses him of riding a well decorated horse, as if to suggest that Cade is running out of “OK’ reasons for murdering Lord Say.  Another example of doing a poor job in gathering the support of the people would be Cade’s abuse of power; he states that it would be treason if anybody addresses him as anything less than Lord Mortimer. Then when a soldier immediately walks into the scene and refers to ‘Lord Mortimer’ as Jack Cade, hi is then knocked to the ground and killed. This is exactly the same kind of oppressive force that the rebels believe they are fighting against, yet they flow with it during their bloodthirsty frenzy (4.6.7). This differs drastically from Haydee Santamaria’s biography, she recalls Castro’s order to “[not] shoot for pleasure; don’t kill for pleasure” (Santamaria 39).  Castro on the other hand, was more sympathetic and did not “oblige [anybody] to take part in the attack” (Santamaria 37). Those who refused to fight before the attack were allowed to leave for their homes and Castro would refuse to brand them as traitors, “considering only that they were not, at that time, ready to go along with the plan” (30). Castro did not have people within his own community unjustifiably murdered. This is why Castro succeeded in rallying a second attack on the Batista regime and ultimately, the usurpation; he respected the locals and understood that a healthy mob and their cooperation were necessary to win.

These conclusions in which two rebellions were synchronized into two distinct causes and then embodied under the Guerrilla Warfare manual, illustrate the importance of strong leadership and a healthy mob.  Jack Cade and the peasants’ revolt fail due to a lack of both of these ideals. 

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“The man who conforms by obeying unjust laws and permits anybody to trample the country in which he was born, the man who so mistreats his county, is not an honorable man” – Fidel Castro


Published by Willy Martinez

Willy Martinez is a creative writer, Integrated Marketing Specialist, and Boxing coach. Since being honorably discharged from the Marines in 2004, he has pursued his passion for telling stories, whether they be through film, graphic design, and writing for digital art.

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