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Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics Paperback – May 14, 2019
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"Brilliant, beautifully organized, exceedingly readable." ―Philip Roth
World-renowned Shakespeare scholar Stephen Greenblatt explores the playwright’s insight into bad (and often mad) rulers.
Examining the psyche―and psychoses―of the likes of Richard III, Macbeth, Lear, and Coriolanus, Greenblatt illuminates the ways in which William Shakespeare delved into the lust for absolute power and the disasters visited upon the societies over which these characters rule. Tyrant shows that Shakespeare’s work remains vitally relevant today, not least in its probing of the unquenchable, narcissistic appetites of demagogues and the self-destructive willingness of collaborators who indulge their appetites.
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― Simon Callow, New York Times Book Review
"Rarely have these blood-soaked creatures seemed so recognizably human and so contemporary."
― John Lithgow
"Elegant and deftly written."
― Eliot A. Cohen, Washington Post
"Greenblatt shows us not only that Shakespeare’s writings can serve as a brilliant guide to the mess of our current politics but also that he―Greenblatt, that is―is perfectly well able to give us an account of them."
― Los Angeles Review of Books
"Shakespeare lived five centuries ago, yet Greenblatt’s book has the feel of a series of urgent and very contemporary dispatches."
― Christian Science Monitor
"Mr. Greenblatt breaks with the traditional assumption that Shakespeare must have been an uncritical admirer of monarchy. The Shakespeare that this book reveals is not only able to tell a bad king from a good but willing to raise serious doubts about monarchy as a regime."
― Wall Street Journal
"An engaging study of some of the most eloquent despots on stage."
"In Tyrant, Greenblatt demonstrates the enduring relevance of Shakespeare’s outlook as much as providing a commentary…Shakespeare’s voice rings down the ages, and, as with innumerable other human matters, we would do well to listen to it."
"[Tyrant] is valuable less for what it has to say about Shakespeare’s plays than for how it applies the wisdom it has acquired through careful study of these works to the crisis roiling American democracy."
― Los Angeles Times
"Shakespeare’s fascination with the tyrannical impulse, in domestic as well as political settings, is undeniable and is acutely observed by Greenblatt. The overlap between the private and public spheres is always catastrophic, as is the tyrant’s blind, psychotic fury at resistance when pure obedience is expected, an emotion the plays release and explore compulsively."
― Literary Review (UK)
About the Author
- Publisher : W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (May 14, 2019)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 224 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0393356973
- ISBN-13 : 978-0393356977
- Item Weight : 6.3 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.3 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #111,416 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
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Some other reviews complain that Tyrant is a thinly veiled criticism of Trump and the Trump administration, but that is not because Greenblatt wrote a criticism of Trump and called an examination of Shakespeare. It is because Greenblatt wrote about Shakespeare's criticism of tyrants. If you don't think Trump is a budding tyrant but still see the parallels to tyrannical characters, perhaps you should think about that connection more.
All in all, Tyrant is a very well written work on Shakespeare's characters, plays, and the playwright's exploration of political power and I would recommend it.
In William Shakespeare’s day, it wasn’t safe to disagree with power. Unlike today’s America, with the protections of the First Amendment, his world was governed by the near-absolute power of the monarch, the aging Queen Elizabeth. And speaking ill of the queen led to swift and often deadly punishment. Instead, the Bard through his plays would examine the ways and means of tyranny, delving into the past and into foreign lands to create his voices that could say what could not be said frankly (“Greenblatt is the Harvard Shakespeare expert who co-founded new historicism, the lit-crit practice that seeks to place works in their historical context.”)
In the vein of speaking obliquely, this is Greenblatt’s commentary on Donald Trump, though the president is not named in its pages. Instead, the Tyrant focuses on several of the same that appear in Shakespeare's plays, examining them in their foibles for the causes and results of their tyranny. The book is rooted in an article that Greenblatt wrote for the New York Times in 2016. At a friend’s encouragement, he expanded it to a full book. He focuses his examination on Macbeth, Richard III, Lear, Coriolanus and Leontes from A Winter’s Tale (notably leaving out Claudius, perhaps because he is more well-known than most).
While it is ostensibly a commentary on politics, it does not read like just another piece of political punditry or tribal drivel. On the contrary, Greenblatt makes Shakespeare accessible and, well, interesting, as well as providing principles that can be read and interpreted to apply to almost any power selfish politicians or businessman. Reading it is as enjoyable as watching Shakespeare performed well. As Constance Grady puts it in her review of the book, “There is a certain pleasure to watching Shakespeare’s tyrants work, to watching Richard III brazenly woo Lady Anne over the body of a man he killed or listening to Macbeth’s mournful, poetic speeches.”
Perhaps the biggest observation for me, and where the book most departs from other books that more directly take on Trump, is that Tyrant leaves the reader to make his own observations and conclusions. Here is what a tyrant does; is this what we are living through?
A good if chilling look at how deeply Shakespeare could look into the soul of ANY country and its people.