"It's almost like Shakespeare: Brexit or no Brexit? That was the question." German state broadcaster Deutsche Welle resorted to a passing twist on Hamlet after the British Parliament delivered what may be the final defeat Tuesday night in Prime Minister Theresa May's attempt to lead the UK to an orderly divorce from the European Union.
Though real-life consequences are at stake on the continent, European publications were mostly left trying to understand what was happening across the Channel. And yes, Shakespeare was there to help. Italian journalist Enrico Franceschini cited The Tempest: "Hell is empty and all the devils are here," began his article in Rome-based La Repubblica. "You need to look to the Bard after yet another day in which the British parliament, and the nation it represents, are tossed about by Brexit like a ship at the mercy of the proverbial Shakespearean storm."
Beppe Severgini reached for a different British trope in his commentary for Corriere della Sera: "Brexit defies any logic, and logic is the shiniest jewel in the crown of the British mind."
The pro-Brexit, pro-May paper The Daily Maildid not shy away from laying blame on Parliament, which voted 391 to 242 to reject (apparently once and for all) the proposed accord negotiated with the EU. "They vowed to deliver the Brexit Britain voted for — and had it in their grasp. But last night contemptuous MPs chose instead to plunge our despairing nation into chaos."
French daily Le Monde may have best summarized the current state of play: "The Brexit deal laboriously negotiated with Brussels for two years is dead, and Theresa May, who backed it, is politically hardly in better condition."
What's next? There is of course the prospect of a "no-deal" Brexit, with a vote on that option scheduled Wednesday night, which could force the UK to negotiate all terms of trade, travel and otherwise with each EU country individually. Otherwise, the UK can appeal to the EU for an extension of the original March 29 deadline for a comprehensive deal. The front page of France's Libération "back to square one" begs the question of just how far "back" all will be forced to go.
As for the future, Die Welt echoed a sentiment across the continent: "No one knows." The only way out, writes Stefanie Bolzen, could be "a self-imposed pause for thought, just as the EU likes to do when it's at its wits' end." But back inside the UK, she concludes: "Brexit has polarized the country too much for that. The train keeps on running. And nobody knows where."
In a video commentary for Spanish daily El Pais, veteran award-winning journalist Iñaki Gabilondo doubts it'll be an orderly divorce at all, comparing Brexit to a marriage turned sour: The UK and Europe "have reached a place where, like in so many troubled marriages, things have boiled over to the point that the fight is more intense than the original reasons for the dispute."
While the metaphors keep coming, it looks like Brexit has turned Shakespeare into a second-rate soap opera.