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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 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 them.


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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 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 them.

30 review for Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jeffrey Keeten

    ”Why would anyone, he asked himself, be drawn to a leader manifestly unsuited to govern, someone dangerously impulsive or viciously conniving or indifferent to the truth? Why, in some circumstances, does evidence of mendacity, crudeness, or cruelty serve not as a fatal disadvantage but as an allure, attracting ardent followers? Why do otherwise proud and self-respecting people submit to the sheer effrontery of the tyrant, his sense that he can get away with saying and doing anything he likes, ”Why would anyone, he asked himself, be drawn to a leader manifestly unsuited to govern, someone dangerously impulsive or viciously conniving or indifferent to the truth? Why, in some circumstances, does evidence of mendacity, crudeness, or cruelty serve not as a fatal disadvantage but as an allure, attracting ardent followers? Why do otherwise proud and self-respecting people submit to the sheer effrontery of the tyrant, his sense that he can get away with saying and doing anything he likes, his spectacular indecency?” I have never really thought about before how many times William Shakespeare warned us about the dangerousness of tyrants. Macbeth, Winter’s Tale, Coriolanus, Julius Caesar, Henry VI parts one through three, King Lear, and, of course the play involving the most notorious hunchback in history, Richard III all are explorations of the darkness of power that leads to evil deeds, madness, and malicious intentions. Once power is gained, by hook or by crook, then begins the game played mostly in the mind of the tyrant of paranoia, fear, and political intrigue that eventually, if things work as they should, leads to his destruction. Stephen Greenblatt, by writing this book, is using Shakespeare to remind us of our duties not to let tyranny go unchecked. It is not as if tyrants are crafty individuals, hiding their true natures, for they see nothing wrong with their persona or their naked ambitions. In fact, with Coriolanus specifically, it is because his disdain for the public is so high that he is incapable of hiding his true intentions. This, fortunately, eventually brings about his downfall. This is what happens most of the time, but sometimes the public, bafflingly, embraces the exposed tyrant, even if to bring him to power is voting against their own best interests. ”They know that he is a pathological liar and they see perfectly well that he has done this or that ghastly thing, but they have a strange penchant for forgetting, as if it were hard work to remember just how awful he is. They are drawn irresistibly to normalize what is not normal.” These tyrants have no loyalty to country, and if they are ousted from power, they are quick to turn on their country, even embracing the nation’s enemies to punish those who would not let them be the dictator they dreamed to be. Shakespeare’s depiction of Richard III brilliantly illustrates how tyrants view the world. “He is pathologically narcissistic and supremely arrogant. He has a grotesque sense of entitlement, never doubting that he can do whatever he chooses. He expects absolute loyalty, but he is incapable of gratitude. The feelings of others mean nothing to him. He has no natural grace, no sense of humanity, no decency. He is not merely indifferent to the law; he hates it and takes pleasure in breaking it. He hates it because it gets in his way and because it stands for a notion of the public good that he holds in contempt.” The tyrant is utterly obsessed with winning, and any losses he may experience are always going to be blamed on those around him. He is too childish to accept his own missteps; therefore, valuable lessons are not learned that would help him to become a better leader. He never has to feel personal regret. We have a current leader who frequently uses the term…”he hears things.” They are not based on any concrete facts, but really are just gut reactions that also happen to dovetail or support, in lieu of facts, the narrative he wishes to share with the public. Any criticism of his actions are labelled as “fake news,” or they are all part of a witch hunt conspired by his enemies to destroy him. Leontes, from The Winter’s Tale, has a dream that embraces all of his fears. ”If the tyrant dreams that there is fraud, or betrayal, or treason, then there is fraud, or betrayal, or treason.” I’ve always found that, when people start believing falsehoods about the intentions of the people they disagree with, some of that is rooted in what they would be willing to do to help the cause of their party. If I would do it, of course they ARE doing it. It reminds me of all the voter fraud accusations that have been cast about without evidence in recent elections towards one party when the only voter fraud that has come to light has been perpetrated by the party that has cried foul. We are living in a age where, no matter how grotesquely improbable the charge of indecency may be, we believe it about our opponents from the other party. *Sigh* Greenblatt is using Shakespeare very effectively to warn us about the dangers of complacency. We shouldn’t just shrug our shoulders at the latest outrageous Tweet or policy change or creation of chaos or even consider sacrificing upholding our laws because we believe a strong economy (keep in mind, leaders can have some influence on economic matters, but they do not control the economy) is more important than reining in tyranny. We should not embrace fascism because we fear liberal socialist policies. The extremes of the hard right or the hard left are too dangerous to play with. Our greatest assets have been our laws and our institutions, though flawed, that allow us to conduct ourselves with civility and with a certain amount of safe expectations. The sound of a buzzing phone. Hello. Is this really POTUS? Now why would you ever think this book and review have anything to do with you? If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com I also have a Facebook blogger page at: https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten

  2. 5 out of 5

    Bill Kerwin

    Whenever Trump brazenly arrogates another royal prerogative to himself, I find myself thinking of him—solemnly, and in horror—as if he were Donald of Orange, America's very bad king. And when I do, my mind turns to Shakespeare. Now, what would that sage observer of power, plots, and hubris say about a would-be tyrant like this? Harvard professor Stephen Greenblatt—author of the Shakespeare biography Will in the World, and founder of the “New Historicism”—was way ahead of me. He was thinking about Whenever Trump brazenly arrogates another royal prerogative to himself, I find myself thinking of him—solemnly, and in horror—as if he were Donald of Orange, America's very bad king. And when I do, my mind turns to Shakespeare. Now, what would that sage observer of power, plots, and hubris say about a would-be tyrant like this? Harvard professor Stephen Greenblatt—author of the Shakespeare biography Will in the World, and founder of the “New Historicism”—was way ahead of me. He was thinking about stuff like this even before the election, and writing about it too. (“Shakespeare Explains the 2016 Election,” NYT Op-Ed, 10/8/16.) After the election he couldn’t stop thinking about it, and this book (Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics) is the result. Greenblatt extends his initial explorations beyond matters Trumpian. He begins with Shakespeare’s connection to a treasonous plot (a special performance of the “regicide” play Richard II in 1601 for friends of the Earl of Essex), goes on to discuss political parties (the White Rose and the Red Rose in Henry VI), bogus populism (Jack Cade in the same play), the non-psychopathic, guilt-ridden tyrant (Macbeth), the tyrant mad or senile (A Winter’s Tale, King Lear), and how a republic may prevent the tyrant’s rise (Coriolanus). Greenblatt never explicitly mentions Trump, and most of the topics he covers apply to him only tangentially (though his treatment of the mad, senile Lear occasionally comes close). It is in the forty pages devoted to Richard III that Greenblatt deals directly—well, as directly as a restrained scholarly treatment may deal—with the reality of Trump our own personal “Lord Protector.” My advice, for those with even a slight taste for Shakespeare: pick up the book, read chapters 4, 5, and 6, and, if you like them, sample the rest. Greenblatt knows what he’s talking about, and he shows us the connection between Shakespeare’s plays and our politics in surprising, illuminative ways. Here is a bit of Greenblatt from the beginning of Chapter 4 (“A Matter of Character”) in which he discusses the personality of Richard III: He is pathologically narcissistic and extremely arrogant. He has a grotesque sense of entitlement, never doubting that he can do whatever he chooses. He loves to bark orders and to watch underlings scurry to carry them out. He expects absolute loyalty, but he is incapable of gratitude. The feelings of others mean nothing to him. He has no natural grace, no sense of shared humanity, no decency. He is not merely indifferent to the law; he hates it and takes pleasure in breaking it. He hates it because it gets in his way and because it stands for a notion of the public good that he holds in contempt. He divides the world into winners and losers. The winners arouse his regard insofar as he can use them for his own ends; the losers arouse only his scorn. The public good is something only losers like to talk about. What he likes to talk about is winning. . . . He is a bully. Easily enraged, he strikes out at anyone who stands in his way. . . . He is gifted at detecting weakness and deft at mockery and insult. These skills attract followers who are drawn to the same cruel delight, even if they cannot have it to his unmatched degree. . . . His possession of power includes the domination of women, but he despises them far more than he desires them. Sexual conquest excites him, but only for the endlessly reiterated proof that he can grab anything he likes . . . Sooner or later, he is brought down. He dies unloved and unlamented. He leaves behind only wreckage. It would have been better had Richard III never been born.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Darwin8u

    "What is the city but the people" - Coriolanus: Act 3 Scene 1 "Tyrants are enemies of the future." - Stephen Greenblatt, Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics Stephen Greenblatt, like Harold Bloom, is a man steeped in Shakespeare. So, it is obvious that Greenblatt would be a wise choice to turn to to see if Shakespeare can give us any information (via Shakespeare) on the behavior, motives, and reason for tyrants. And he does, well. He examines such plays as Henry VI (all three), Richard II, Richard III, "What is the city but the people" - Coriolanus: Act 3 Scene 1 "Tyrants are enemies of the future." - Stephen Greenblatt, Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics Stephen Greenblatt, like Harold Bloom, is a man steeped in Shakespeare. So, it is obvious that Greenblatt would be a wise choice to turn to to see if Shakespeare can give us any information (via Shakespeare) on the behavior, motives, and reason for tyrants. And he does, well. He examines such plays as Henry VI (all three), Richard II, Richard III, King Lear, Macbeth, Julius Caesar, and Coriolanus to better understand, via Shakespeare, Tyrants. The subtitle is a bit oblique. He isn't looking at politics. Greenblatt is looking squarely at Trump and the demagogues across the pond. The parallels he finds and the examples he gives square too close to our modern political realities. He looks at questions like: "Why do large number of people knowingly accept being lied to? How does a figure like Richard III or Macbeth ascend to the throne." He also asks fundamentally important questions like: "Why would anyone...be drawn to a leader manifestly unsuited to govern, someone dangerously impulsive or viciously conniving or indifferent to truth? Why in some circumstances, does evidence of mendacity, crudeness, or cruelty serve not as a fatal disadvantage but as an allure, attracting ardent followers? Why do otherwise proud and self-respecting people submit to the sheer effrontery of the tyrant, his sense that he can get away with saying and doing anything he likes, his spectacular indecency?" It sounds like Greenblatt had a model tyrant in mind as he wrote this book. That said, it isn't Greenblatt's most inventive or insightful book. IT is timely, and I guess that is the reason for it. Interesting, timely, not his greatest.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Sherwood Smith

    One of the reasons Shakespeare is still passionately read today is how extraordinarily sharp was his insight into the complexities of human nature—and how he managed to make poetry even of the muck of evil. The opening chapters are worth the price of the book alone as Greenblatt gives the reader a precis of Tudor history and culture, focusing on playwrights, censorship, and the social as well as political climate. The specifics are so enlightening. I had not known, for example, that a couple of One of the reasons Shakespeare is still passionately read today is how extraordinarily sharp was his insight into the complexities of human nature—and how he managed to make poetry even of the muck of evil. The opening chapters are worth the price of the book alone as Greenblatt gives the reader a precis of Tudor history and culture, focusing on playwrights, censorship, and the social as well as political climate. The specifics are so enlightening. I had not known, for example, that a couple of would-be rebels against Queen Elizabeth paid for a private performance of Richard II (a play, one of them seemingly remembered, depicting the downfall of a monarch) not long before they were arrested and executed. The actors were briefly arrested, but released when they pointed out that they were paid to give their play, and knew nothing of politics. They were actors, and that was an old, out-of-fashion play. But this and other instances of danger for artists apparently, Greenblatt feels, inspired Shakespeare to set his plays firmly in the past. Mixing geography and names and cultures didn’t matter. Bohemia could border the sea. The fanciful trappings enabled him to make his commentary on current life safely oblique (or, as Emily Dickinson wrote a few centuries after, “Tell it slant”). Greenblatt first examines the histories, then other plays centered around tyrants, the corruption of their morals and manners, and the way they prey on the common people while using them. Slogans are so easy to create an us against them mentality: “rage generates insults, and insults generate outrageous actions, and outrageous actions, in turn, heighten the intensity of the rage.” Sound familiar? There is no doubt that Greenblatt had current American politics in mind when he wrote this book, which focuses on the psychotic, sociopathic, narcissistic and venal tyrants of the plays, and how and why they were defeated. He contrasts these tyrants, and the circumstances in which each rose, sending me paging through my Shakespeare time after time to reread passages with renewed insight. Furthermore, Greenblatt incisively teases out Shakespeare’s most powerful observations on the irreparable cost of tyranny even after the tyrant is finally gotten rid of. Shakespeare was aware, centuries ago, that the common folk cannot always be counted on as a bulwark against tyranny. Greenblatt writes, “They were, [Shakespeare] thought, too easily manipulated by slogans, cowed by threats, or bribed by trivial ‘gifts’ to serve as reliable defenders of freedom.” Shakespeare knew well that it was difficult to stand up for human decency if the threat (right now) is not directly relevant to you. It is said that hard times make heroes, but what exactly is a hero? In examining Julius Caesar, Greenblatt pulls out Brutus’s chilling ruminations on why it was necessary to kill the tyrant. His long soliloquy undermines any attempt to draw a clean line between abstract political principles and particular individuals, with their psychological peculiarities, their unpredictability, their only partially knowable, opaque inwardness. The verbs “would” and “might” shimmer and dance their ambiguous way through the twists and turns of a mind obsessed. Further, Greenblatt comments on how, in this play, the violent act made in desperate attempt to save the republic destroyed it: with the death of Caesar, Caesarism emerged triumphant. I found especially interesting Greenblatt’s commentary on that hot mess, Coriolanus. He begins the section by observing that societies, like individuals, generally protect themselves from sociopaths. But sometimes they can’t. He goes on to talk about how, yet again, though Shakespeare sets the play safely in the distant past, it appears to be addressing urgent and immediate affairs such as food shortages and bad harvests, exacerbated by rich landlords practicing enclosure of common lands. This play begins with a food riot, and as it progresses, it underscores the scorn that the wealthy hold for the common people as they connive and fight for power and more wealth. When they have to address the common folk, “Just lie.” Master of the oblique angle, Greenblatt states, Shakespeare was—in an age in which you could be drawn and quartered for writing political pamphlets, or even speaking out in the wrong place at the wrong time—able to get someone on stage and tell the two thousand listeners, some of whom were government agents, that “a dog’s obeyed in office.” Shakespeare was against violence, especially state-organized violence, and while acknowledging that tyrants will rise, his plays breathe the conviction that the best chance for the recovery of collective decency lies in the political action of ordinary citizens. Copy provided by NetGalley

  5. 5 out of 5

    Heather Jones

    This is a book about Shakespeare. It doesn't mention contemporary politics at all, not even once. Why would it? It is a book about how Shakespeare's plays explore the concept of tyranny, and of what happens in a country when flawed, selfish, foolish people use power for their own benefit. Any connections between the contents of this book and contemporary politics are entirely in the mind of the reader. And, of course, completely intentional.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ken

    "Shakespeare's Richard III brilliantly develops the personality features of the aspiring tyrant already sketched in the Henry VI trilogy: the limitless self-regard, the law-breaking, the pleasure in inflicting pain, the compulsive desire to dominate. He is pathologically narcissistic and supremely arrogant. He has a grotesque sense of entitlement, never doubting that he can do whatever he chooses. He loves to bark orders and to watch underlings scurry to carry them out. He expects absolute "Shakespeare's Richard III brilliantly develops the personality features of the aspiring tyrant already sketched in the Henry VI trilogy: the limitless self-regard, the law-breaking, the pleasure in inflicting pain, the compulsive desire to dominate. He is pathologically narcissistic and supremely arrogant. He has a grotesque sense of entitlement, never doubting that he can do whatever he chooses. He loves to bark orders and to watch underlings scurry to carry them out. He expects absolute loyalty, but he is incapable of gratitude. The feelings of others mean nothing to him. He has no natural grace, no sense of shared humanity, no decency. "He is not merely indifferent to the law; he hates it and takes pleasure in breaking it. He hates it because it gets in his way and because it stands for a notion of the public good that he holds in contempt. He divides the world into winners and losers. The winners arouse his regard insofar as he can use them for his own ends; the losers arouse only is scorn. The public good is something only losers like to talk about. What he likes to talk about is winning. "He has always had wealth; he was born into it and makes ample use of it. But though he enjoys having what money can get him, it is not what most excites him. What excites him is the joy of domination. He is a bully. Easily enraged, he strikes out at anyone who stands in his way. He enjoys seeing others cringe, tremble, or wince in pain. He is gifted at detecting weakness and deft at mockery and insult. These skills attract followers who are drawn to the same cruel delight, even if they cannot have it to his unmatched degree. Though they know that he is dangerous, the followers help him advance to his goal, which is the possession of supreme power." (pp. 53-54) You get the idea. At times you wonder if you are reading about Richard III or Donald I. And though Greenblatt never mentions He That Shall Not Be Named once in the text itself, it's clear. If it isn't, Greenblatt will spell it out in the final installment, "Coda." Is this balm for the legions of literate anti-Trumpists, one of many books that have come out to appease this market? Well, yes. And do all the angles of tyranny, replete with quotes, from Macbeth and Richard III and King Lear and Julius Caesar and Coriolanus begin to blur the eyes at times as well as fascinate at times. Let's give a "yes" to that, too. So it's a good book but not a great one. And though Shakespeare proves that people love to be lied to when it's the lies they want to hear, he also details the bad boys' ultimate demise and how fickle the masses can be. Meaning: What cheers me most is Greenblatt's conclusion regarding Shakespeare's conclusion. Shakespeare put faith in the unpredictability of life, how it can as quickly undo a tyrant as make him. Let's put our faith in the Bard, then, who surely would have seen Donald Trump as just another iteration of corruption and vanity, the type person that history is rife with. If Donald be a spot on our collective dignity, then, repeat after me: "Out, damned spot!"

  7. 4 out of 5

    Carol Douglas

    In Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics, noted Shakespearean scholar Stephen Greenblatt draws comparisons between Shakespeare's tyrants and contemporary politics. Greenblatt never says outright the name of the modern leader who has the personality of a tyrant, but it is obvious whom he means. Shakespeare knew about the domination of Protestants by Catholics and Catholics by Protestants. He could see the Puritans' potential for tyranny. As Greenblatt points out, Shakespeare lived in a time when people In Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics, noted Shakespearean scholar Stephen Greenblatt draws comparisons between Shakespeare's tyrants and contemporary politics. Greenblatt never says outright the name of the modern leader who has the personality of a tyrant, but it is obvious whom he means. Shakespeare knew about the domination of Protestants by Catholics and Catholics by Protestants. He could see the Puritans' potential for tyranny. As Greenblatt points out, Shakespeare lived in a time when people were afraid of a foreign conspiracy (the Roman Catholic Church) that said killing England's monarch would be a virtuous action. The parallels Greenblatt makes with our fears today are apt. Greenblatt's Shakespeare perceives populism as a tool of tyrants. He looks at Bolingbroke's use of the people in seizing the throne from Richard II. Richard III's use and discarding of those who helped him gain power, not to mention his blatant delight in lying and his scorn for women, are well depicted. Greenblatt seems to sympathize with Brutus, whom I've never believed was the "noblest Roman of them all," but points out that the conspirators who killed Caesar to save the Roman Republic actually caused the Republic's downfall. Greenblatt's analysis of Jack Cade's rebellion in Henry VI, Part 3, is an excellent depiction of populism espoused by a character who wanted to be king himself, and doubtless a tyrant. Cade asserted that educated people were the enemy of the common people, and that men should be killed because they could write their names or could speak French. That sort of incitement against intellectuals is all too common today. Shakespeare was a property owner and had no desire for social turmoil. But he also had respect for ordinary people. Greenblatt sees the somewhat venal tribunes in Coriolanus as true heroes: ordinary politicians who saved the people from a man who despised them and wanted to starve them. Shakespeare's plays suggest that tyrants will always be defeated -- eventually. Greenblatt has found an elegant way to speak out against today's dangers.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Lily

    This book discusses Shakespeare's different portrayals of the Tyrant. It is broken down into chapters about conditions necessary for the Tyrant's rise to power, specific aspects of the Tyrant's personality, and the eventual fall of the Tyrant. Greenblatt relates 6 plays: Richard III, Macbeth, King Lear, A Winter's tale, Julius Caesar and Coriolanus, drawing parallels to one Tyrant currently in power. Greenblatt makes no attempt to hide his inspiration in writing this book, which was refreshing. This book discusses Shakespeare's different portrayals of the Tyrant. It is broken down into chapters about conditions necessary for the Tyrant's rise to power, specific aspects of the Tyrant's personality, and the eventual fall of the Tyrant. Greenblatt relates 6 plays: Richard III, Macbeth, King Lear, A Winter's tale, Julius Caesar and Coriolanus, drawing parallels to one Tyrant currently in power. Greenblatt makes no attempt to hide his inspiration in writing this book, which was refreshing. Tyrant was well done, it was though provoking and made me want to re-read plays like Richard the III and Macbeth which were my 2 favorites as a child, and inspires me to read Coriolanus and Winter's Tale which I have never read or seen performed. It also tied in nicely with my reading this year on the subjects of Tyranny and Fascism, so it was an all-around good read. Thank you to the publisher for the ARC.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Linda Robinson

    Breathtakingly current, terrifyingly close to what we are experiencing in the U.S., and maybe the entire world. Greenblatt combines all his interests in this book. For those not familiar with his CV, here 'tis. https://english.fas.harvard.edu/facul... The politics in Shakespeare's plays have always been the trickiest for me. I'm not good at treachery, especially at court, but Will sure was. "How is it possible for a whole country to fall into the hands of a tyrant?" Greenblatt educates us in the Breathtakingly current, terrifyingly close to what we are experiencing in the U.S., and maybe the entire world. Greenblatt combines all his interests in this book. For those not familiar with his CV, here 'tis. https://english.fas.harvard.edu/facul... The politics in Shakespeare's plays have always been the trickiest for me. I'm not good at treachery, especially at court, but Will sure was. "How is it possible for a whole country to fall into the hands of a tyrant?" Greenblatt educates us in the first chapter that this was Shakespeare's fixation from early days in 1590 to his death. Coriolanus was the last play he wrote. The duration of his writing coincided - except for a few years between 1603-1616 - with the reign of Elizabeth I. Whether Shakespeare thought she was a tyrant, we don't know, which is a darn good thing because playwrights who wandered anywhere near disparaging the rule of the Virgin Queen lost various body parts first, and then their lives. Shakespeare mused over tyranny, and retained his hands and his head, by going way back in history and being the master of "strategic indirection." Similarities between events in the late 16th / early 17th century were displaced. Henry V. King Lear. Macbeth. The War of the Roses trilogy of Henry VI, Richard III. And Julius Caesar. How does the public embrace a dictator, a psychopath? We don't see much of the plebian reaction to its lord and master's voice, but we are privy to the intrigues of those around The King. Machinations behind curtains, in hallways, on battlefields at a distance. We don't see the women plotting much, except for mothers and complicit wives. Where is the voice of reason and restraint? King Lear's nameless servant. Eventually Volumnia in Coriolanus does a 180. Shakespeare didn't believe that the public could be "counted upon as a bulwark against tyranny." Too easily swayed by slogans and flags and pomp and boast. "His tyrannicides are drawn, for the most part, from the same elite whose members generate the unjust rulers they oppose and eventually kill." Well, well. Shakespeare was not a sedition stirrer, nor a malcontent. "His words speak a deep aversion to violence" yet, as well "an aversion to the government-sanctioned platitudes in texts like the 'Homilies on Obedience' - perhaps believing that this celebration of those in authority, the "perpetual invocation of God's partisan support for whoever was on top" may have the opposite effect overall. This is a difficult book to read at this time, but there is a glimmer of hope to be had. Hope triumphs over despair, even if it's only in the comedies of The Bard. I have a renewed interest in seeing Shakespeare's plays performed again. Lucky me to have seen Maggie Smith play Lady Macbeth. I've never seen Coriolanus, but just found there was a movie made with Ralph Fiennes as Coriolanus, and Gerald Butler. And Vanessa Redgrave as Volumnia, Coriolanus' monster-making momma - a part I'm sure she gobbles on the screen. Jessica Chastain as Virgilia, Coriolanus' wife. It's set modern, but Shakespeare's words. I hope.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Bettie

    Description : As an aging, tenacious Elizabeth I clung to power, a talented playwright probed the social causes, the psychological roots, and the twisted consequences of tyranny. In exploring the psyche (and psychoses) of the likes of Richard III, Macbeth, Lear, Coriolanus, and the societies they rule over, Stephen Greenblatt illuminates the ways in which William Shakespeare delved into the lust for absolute power and the catastrophic consequences of its execution. Cherished institutions seem Description : As an aging, tenacious Elizabeth I clung to power, a talented playwright probed the social causes, the psychological roots, and the twisted consequences of tyranny. In exploring the psyche (and psychoses) of the likes of Richard III, Macbeth, Lear, Coriolanus, and the societies they rule over, Stephen Greenblatt illuminates the ways in which William Shakespeare delved into the lust for absolute power and the catastrophic consequences of its execution. Cherished institutions seem fragile, political classes are in disarray, economic misery fuels populist anger, people knowingly accept being lied to, partisan rancor dominates, spectacular indecency rules—these aspects of a society in crisis fascinated Shakespeare and shaped some of his most memorable plays. With uncanny insight, he shone a spotlight on the infantile psychology and unquenchable narcissistic appetites of demagogues—and the cynicism and opportunism of the various enablers and hangers-on who surround them—and imagined how they might be stopped. As Greenblatt shows, Shakespeare’s work, in this as in so many other ways, remains vitally relevant today. Oooo - that section on Richard III is indi1 described to a tee (~ 1hr 25mins ->)

  11. 4 out of 5

    Katie Dimtses

    An engaging look at Shakespeare's construction of tyrants in the Early Modern era, as well a topical and unfortunately necessary discussion that applies to how tyrants are born, raised, and enabled in our current socio-political climate. Greenblatt thoroughly breaks down the historical context of the political situation of England at the turn of the seventeenth century, and explores the ways in which Shakespeare, while never directly involved in political commentary unlike many of his An engaging look at Shakespeare's construction of tyrants in the Early Modern era, as well a topical and unfortunately necessary discussion that applies to how tyrants are born, raised, and enabled in our current socio-political climate. Greenblatt thoroughly breaks down the historical context of the political situation of England at the turn of the seventeenth century, and explores the ways in which Shakespeare, while never directly involved in political commentary unlike many of his contemporaries, managed to explore nearly all the corners of the political institution in which he lived. Greenblatt suggests that Shakespeare's depiction of the political game forces us to ask how "a leader unsuited to govern, someone dangerously impulsive or viciously conniving or indifferent to the truth" (2) could be elevated to the highest political station in the land, even at times with ardent support. Why, he also asks, do some leaders that have seemed fit in the past descend into the role of the tyrant? And how, of course, is an individual or a country to resist? To answer these questions, Greenblatt takes as his case studies Shakespeare's most famous tyrants: Richard III, Macbeth, King Lear, Julius Caesar, Leontes, and Coriolanus. Most importantly, however, Greenblatt includes thorough close readings of the plays and their contextual settings, while illuminating the seemingly minor characters or events that actually play key roles in defending, enabling, and, ultimately, defeating such rulers/systems. In his final chapter, Greenblatt emphasizes the ways in which Shakespeare's plays offer a commentary on politics that "strikingly embrac[es] unpredicatbility" (188). Shakespeare's plays ultimately end with the tyrant overthrown, but the return to order--whatever that means--is never without violence, sacrifice, and suffering. Greenblatt reminds us, however, with excellent textual examples, that Shakespeare's plays do offer us some very real forms of resistance--often in surprising and subtle instances: "The best chance for the recovery of collective decency lay, [Shakespeare] thought, in the political action of ordinary citizens. He never lost sight of the people who steadfastly remained silent when they were exhorted to shout their support for the tyrant, or the servant who tried to stop his vicious master from torturing a prisoner, or the hungry citizen who demanded economic justice" (189). There are some who might criticize Greenblatt's take here as a not-so-subtle stab at the current political chaos engulfing the US, but he is always grounded in the text and the literary and historical context of Shakespeare's plays. If there are any similarities between Shakespeare's tyrannical rulers and a certain orange cretin, one must ask why are they so visible? Indeed, to call attention to it is only to admit to tyranny. And, of course, to acknowledge that Shakespeare's plays exist both inside and outside of time, and are infinitely translatable to nearly any time or setting.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Michael Austin

    In the first chapter of Tyrant, Stephen Greenblatt tells us that Shakespeare lived in a politically perilous time, that it would have been his death to talk about or criticize the politicians of his day, but that he and other playwrights developed a way to talk about current events in code. They could talk about Elizabeth, or Essex, or Mary--but they had to do it by talking about Ancient Kings, or mythical monarchs, or English Kings dead for at least a hundred years. By working his political In the first chapter of Tyrant, Stephen Greenblatt tells us that Shakespeare lived in a politically perilous time, that it would have been his death to talk about or criticize the politicians of his day, but that he and other playwrights developed a way to talk about current events in code. They could talk about Elizabeth, or Essex, or Mary--but they had to do it by talking about Ancient Kings, or mythical monarchs, or English Kings dead for at least a hundred years. By working his political commentary into other political contexts, Shakespeare could talk about contemporary politics without talking about contemporary politics. With this trope establish, Greenblatt goes on to write a book about Donald Trump without every saying the name “Donald Trump.” But he makes it clear that every one of the Shakespearean villains that he introduces to us is actually just Donald Trump in disguise. Jack Cade, the demagogue in Henry VI, Part II, gives a speech that Greenblatt summarizes as “Make England great again” (41). Richard III is a bully and a sexual predator who believes that he can “grab from any woman anything he wants” (91). A little of this goes a long way, and Greenblatt gives us well more than a little bit. Consider the following paragraph from a chapter describing Richard III’s enablers: .They persuade themselves that there will always be enough adults in the room, as it were, to ensure that promises will be kept, alliances honored, and core institutions respected. Richard is so obviously and grotesquely unqualified for the supreme position of power that they dismiss him from their minds. (67). This could have come from any recent new story discussing the Trump White House staff. It is clearly meant to describe what is happening in the United States in 2018 rather than what happened in either Richard III’s or Shakespeare’s day. It is good to know that history repeats itself, but a little more subtlety might have made the whole exercise more useful to a broader audience. But there is a point to be made, and Greenblatt is intent on making it. Shakespearean kings who are not really tyrants, but who are foolish and impulsive, lend their stories to the critique of Donald Trump: Lear’s capricious division of his kingdom, Leontes’ (The Winter’s Tale) foolish accusations against his wife. These are instances where the king becomes obsessed with something and proceeds without evidence to make ridiculous claims--certainly part of Donald Trump’s executive style, but not quite the same as tyranny. But Greenblatt must make it fit, so we get: .A tyrant does not need to traffic in facts or supply evidence. He expects his accusation to be enough. If he says that someone has been betraying him, or laughing at him, or spying on him, it must be the case. Anyone who contradicts him is either a liar or an idiot. The last thing the tyrant wants, even when he appears to solicit it, is an independent opinion. What he actually wants is loyalty, and by loyalty he does not mean integrity, honor, or responsibility. He means an immediate, unreserved confirmation of his own views and a willingness to carry out his orders without hesitation. When an autocratic, paranoid, narcissistic ruler sits down with a civil servant and asks for his loyalty, the state is in danger. (123-124). Only McBeth really escapes the trap of being shoehorned into a contemporary context. I thought that this was the best chapter because it abandons both the caricature and the allegory and presents us with a character who is a tyrant, knows he is a tyrant, and struggles with his own moral judgments as they oppose his ambitions. Nothing terribly original here, but a powerful set of observations nonetheless. Greenblatt knows Shakespeare and is capable of stunningly original and insightful criticism. But this is not that book. This is one of those hurried-to-market creations designed to cash in on a popular anti-Trumpian sentiment. Which does not mean that he isn’t right, or that his insights aren’t useful. Many of them are. But a single ton of bricks will suffice to get the point across. No need for quite this many bricks in the wall.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Alisi ☆ wants to read too many books ☆

    A short read. Woohoo! After the past couple books I've read, that was refreshing. The specific tyrants the book goes over in-depth are Richard 3, Macbeth, King Lear, and A Winter's Tale. He goes into detail (but not as much) with Julius Caesar, Anthony and Cleopatra, and Coriolanus. This is obviously a political piece meant to reflect the politics of modern day USA. You should know that going in. If you're a fan of Trump, you probably won't like this. I have no love for the guy so it didn't bother A short read. Woohoo! After the past couple books I've read, that was refreshing. The specific tyrants the book goes over in-depth are Richard 3, Macbeth, King Lear, and A Winter's Tale. He goes into detail (but not as much) with Julius Caesar, Anthony and Cleopatra, and Coriolanus. This is obviously a political piece meant to reflect the politics of modern day USA. You should know that going in. If you're a fan of Trump, you probably won't like this. I have no love for the guy so it didn't bother me.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Joshua

    While working through the entire collected plays of William Shakespeare I'm also devouring anything and everything written about the man and his work, and so I picked up this book because I was passing a coworker at the library who was just about to finish entering it into the system. Stephen Greenblatt's book is a fascinating observation of how power operates in the writings of William Shakespeare, and how the actions of the powerful in said plays implicate both the reader, the audience, and the While working through the entire collected plays of William Shakespeare I'm also devouring anything and everything written about the man and his work, and so I picked up this book because I was passing a coworker at the library who was just about to finish entering it into the system. Stephen Greenblatt's book is a fascinating observation of how power operates in the writings of William Shakespeare, and how the actions of the powerful in said plays implicate both the reader, the audience, and the writer himself. Rather than just analyze the behavior of tyrants like MacBeth, Richard III, or Julius Caesar, Greenblatt attempts to observe how their power is presented in the play and how Shakespeare is able to make powerful political statements through these characters. Tyrant is a book that attempts to understand what happens when terrible or inept people acquire power, and how Shakespeare demonstrate the effect such leadership has upon common people. It's a book about power and it's effect, and the reader who appreciates Shakespeare's platys will certainly find inspiration from this book.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Owain

    The best bits of this book are the opening chapter (on how Shakespeare was forced to write about Elizabethan politics obliquely by setting his plays in foreign countries and the distant past) and the coda (which returns to this topic). The inner chapters are a series of thematic summaries of a range of plays shaped deliberately so as to make us aware of their 21st century resonances. For example, there is a long description of the character of Richard III using only the pronoun ‘he’ so that you The best bits of this book are the opening chapter (on how Shakespeare was forced to write about Elizabethan politics obliquely by setting his plays in foreign countries and the distant past) and the coda (which returns to this topic). The inner chapters are a series of thematic summaries of a range of plays shaped deliberately so as to make us aware of their 21st century resonances. For example, there is a long description of the character of Richard III using only the pronoun ‘he’ so that you almost think he is writing about Donald Trump. This is quite entertaining and even thought-provoking, but Greenblatt’s reading of the plays in the context of their own times is so much more compelling and insightful that you wish he had stuck to this method for the whole book.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Brent

    Remarkable... and so relevant. Thanks for the loan(s), Atlanta-Fulton Public Library. Highest recommendation.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Emmkay

    An engaging exploration of Shakespeare’s insights into the nature of tyranny - how it arises, how we respond to it, how it affects the tyrant and those around him. Greenblatt makes it clear throughout (though never explicit) that he has the contemporary political situation in mind. Very readable and thought-provoking.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ed Erwin

    Quick and easy to read survey of the many ways Shakespeare depicted tyrants in his plays. He could not possibly have written about Elizabeth or James and lived long, but he could tell psychologically complex tales of tyrants in other lands or other times. From Coriolanus to Richard III, all tyrants are sort-of the same, so you can easily see parallels to current leaders (in multiple countries). But the details, as well as the bravery, or absence of it, in those around them, leads to very Quick and easy to read survey of the many ways Shakespeare depicted tyrants in his plays. He could not possibly have written about Elizabeth or James and lived long, but he could tell psychologically complex tales of tyrants in other lands or other times. From Coriolanus to Richard III, all tyrants are sort-of the same, so you can easily see parallels to current leaders (in multiple countries). But the details, as well as the bravery, or absence of it, in those around them, leads to very different outcomes. There are many interesting historical details here, told in simple, short and easy to understand form.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jim Angstadt

    Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics Stephen Greenblatt The author draws parallels between the political climate and action of politics in Shakespeare's works and their applicability to our current, 2018, US political situation. Greenblatt notes that Shakespeare was careful to set his works in a time-frame well into the past, an action that helped to preserve the illusion of not making critical comments on the current political situation. The author goes into some detail to illustrate the way that Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics Stephen Greenblatt The author draws parallels between the political climate and action of politics in Shakespeare's works and their applicability to our current, 2018, US political situation. Greenblatt notes that Shakespeare was careful to set his works in a time-frame well into the past, an action that helped to preserve the illusion of not making critical comments on the current political situation. The author goes into some detail to illustrate the way that political factions tend toward opposition rather that unification. Centuries later, we see the same. Perhaps that tells us something about ourselves.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Tricia

    Shakespeare basically predicted our current political catastrophe.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    It's fairly simple: if you're a Never Trumper, you're going to love this book. Greenblatt's analysis of tyrannical figures in such plays as the early "Henry VI" cycle, "Richard III," "Macbeth," and "King Lear" lays out clear one-for-one correspondences to our contemporary political moment and features rather thinly veiled critiques of Trump's dangerous character failings (even though he never names the president once) on a regular basis: his "narcissism, insecurity, cruelty, and folly...a It's fairly simple: if you're a Never Trumper, you're going to love this book. Greenblatt's analysis of tyrannical figures in such plays as the early "Henry VI" cycle, "Richard III," "Macbeth," and "King Lear" lays out clear one-for-one correspondences to our contemporary political moment and features rather thinly veiled critiques of Trump's dangerous character failings (even though he never names the president once) on a regular basis: his "narcissism, insecurity, cruelty, and folly...a proneness to rage, a merciless penchant for bullying, an absence of empathy, a refusal to compromise, a compulsive desire to wield power over others" (166). In Greenblatt's estimation, one sees shadows of Trump's venal, self-serving politics everywhere in Shakespeare's works, from the populist demagogue Jack Cade in "Henry VI," who cynically harnesses the popular rage against the educated elites and the establishment in order to garner the people's support; to the inhuman monster Richard III, "who loves to bark orders and to watch underlings scurry to carry them out. He expects absolute loyalty, but he is incapable of gratitude. The feelings of others mean nothing to him. He has no natural grace, no sense of shared humanity, no decency. He is not merely indifferent to the law; he hates it and takes pleasure in breaking it. He hates it because it gets in his way and because it stands for a notion of the public good that he holds in contempt. He divides the world into winners and losers. The winners arouse his regard insofar as he can use them for his own ends; the losers arouse only his scorn. The public good is something only losers like to talk about. What he likes to talk about is winning" (53-54). So much winning! Even Macbeth's insomniac state is subtly linked to Trump's famous need for little sleep and his insatiable tweeting habits: "Institutional restraints have all failed. The internal and external censors that keep most ordinary mortals, let alone rulers of nations, from sending irrational messages in the middle of the night or acting on every crazed impulse are absent" (109). Of course, for those who find Trump distasteful anyway, this mode of literary criticism will serve as a cathartic balm to the soul, giving them an opportunity to claim the Bard as a card-carrying member of the Resistance and serving as legitimation of their position. A part of me, however, sees what Paul Cantor is arguing in his WSJ review of the book, when he writes that by using Shakespeare "to criticize a contemporary politician, [Greenblatt] risks distorting the meaning of the plays. He also needlessly elevates Mr. Trump's stature by discussing him in the company of world-historical individuals from Julius Caesar to the kings of England." This is akin to the cautionary note some people voice when they urge Trump critics not to overplay their hand by rhetorically likening Trump to Hitler or the Nazis, as emotionally satisfying as that might be. Like many around the world who are afflicted with Trump fatigue (or as his supporters alternately term it, "Trump Derangement Syndrome"), Greenblatt acknowledges the enduring psychological impact that Trump's election has had on him, which has led to his relentless, almost obsessive focus on the leader. That again, however, is in Greenblatt's estimation one of the goals of all tyrants throughout history, "the ability to force his way into the minds of those around him, whether they wish him there or not. It is as if, in compensation for the pain he [himself] has suffered, he has found a way to be present--by force or fraud, violence or insinuation--everywhere and in everyone. No one can keep him out" (65). What's past is prologue.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Bonnie

    I purchased the hard copy of this book to read, because I wanted a book that I could re-read anytime from my bookshelves, and hard copies are just easier to read, (for me). This is an outstanding compilation of Shakespeare's plays dealing with tyrants. Professor Greenblatt knows his Shakespeare extremely well! And the stories he shares with us in this book are so much easier to read than the original Shakespeare plays. I never was able to gain an interest in Shakespeare because the original plays I purchased the hard copy of this book to read, because I wanted a book that I could re-read anytime from my bookshelves, and hard copies are just easier to read, (for me). This is an outstanding compilation of Shakespeare's plays dealing with tyrants. Professor Greenblatt knows his Shakespeare extremely well! And the stories he shares with us in this book are so much easier to read than the original Shakespeare plays. I never was able to gain an interest in Shakespeare because the original plays were such a chore to read. These stores are incredibly easy to read, and amazingly insightful. Greenblatt makes a few early comparison's between Donald Trump's style and those of the tyrants that Greenblatt is profiling, but the majority of this book is an indepth study of the personalities of true tyrants from England's history, and they are richly informative. The centerpiece of this book is Greenblatt's revelation of Richard III - whom I had thought was strictly the playright's lead character in his play. I didn't realize he was a real king (and a despotic tyrant of the worst sort). I would guess all the individuals disguised in "Tyrant" are similar...real people.. genuine despots, terrifying monsters in fancy clothes. What was most interesting to me, because of my concerns about Donald Trump, were the elements of the tyrant's personality that Prof. Greenblatt laid out for us to observe. Trump has them all! Overweening narcissism, sociopathic disregard for the people he controls, lack of administrative judgment and an obsession with order and control. There are other enlightening aspects to the stories in this book (which I read completely in a single day). Another story details the late career of a Roman General who was ignorant of the political ploys used by the Roman Senators to convince the poor to vote for them. It was clear that they were willing to lie and say ANYTHING to convince the common folk to put them in office, after which they did as they pleased, and cared naught for anyone but themselves. Where are we seeing THAT in today's Senate?! Unfortunately, in "The Winter's Tale", Brutus ... having spent his life on the battlefields of Gaul, really had no personal knowledge or understanding of this political charade in Rome's court. Because he was a highly successful (and brutal) Roman soldier, Rome's Senate wanted him to join them. He couldn't resist expressing his personal disgust for the common folks, and his typically arrogant patrician's perspective from his perspective as a Roman noble. Of course, his attitude and his obnoxious truthfulness about his disdain for everyone outside the wealthy nobility did not win him a seat in the Senate. The people hated him, and so he was not elected. Here we see what is going on in our own politically charged battles for the control of our Congress. This book is worth sharing with everyone and reading more than once. The author has just published a second book, entitle "Power" also.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Vincent Li

    A fun series of essays about tyrants in Shakespeare. In Shakespeare's time, it was a punishable crime to criticize the government, so often his plays would never reference contemporary politics, only historical or even fictional stories. This use of historical allegory had a practical purpose but also had the effect of creating universal stories, that as Greenblatt shows, is relevant across time and space. Each chapter explores a different tyrant and a different aspect of their psychological make A fun series of essays about tyrants in Shakespeare. In Shakespeare's time, it was a punishable crime to criticize the government, so often his plays would never reference contemporary politics, only historical or even fictional stories. This use of historical allegory had a practical purpose but also had the effect of creating universal stories, that as Greenblatt shows, is relevant across time and space. Each chapter explores a different tyrant and a different aspect of their psychological make up. Richard II grabs power to compensate for the world's mistreatment of him for his deformities (even his own mother did not love him). King Lear represents the collapse of a state when it has no institutions to protect itself from its leader's declining mental incapacity. The plays covering the war of the roses, in how hyper-politicalization and weakness in the center creates chaos allowing a tyrant to rise. Henry VI's Jack Cade, as a populist demagogue who harnesses populist rage for his own purposes while secretly despising the masses. Lady Macbeth, as an instigator, the enablers in Richard II. It's clear that the book was written with a political purpose in mind. The afterward, and the not-so-veiled references in the book make it obvious that the book is a jab at current politics. Regardless of if one agrees with the author's politics, the book is an enjoyable guide through the tyrants of Shakespeare.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Daniel (Attack of the Books!) Burton

    Rarely have I enjoyed a piece of political commentary as much as I did Stephen Greenblatt’s Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics. IIn 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 Rarely have I enjoyed a piece of political commentary as much as I did Stephen Greenblatt’s Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics. IIn 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?

  25. 5 out of 5

    Dennis Murphy

    Tyrant by Stephen Greenblatt is a good book encased in a misguided polemic that ultimately harms the entire enterprise. I procured an advanced copy by way of goodreads, so I have no idea how much of the politicking is in the final publication, but it does appear that the final product is at least twenty pages longer than the book I read. It would be safe to assume some changes. Greenblatt is a Harvard Professor who, after being deeply disturbed by the 2016 presidential election, started seeing Tyrant by Stephen Greenblatt is a good book encased in a misguided polemic that ultimately harms the entire enterprise. I procured an advanced copy by way of goodreads, so I have no idea how much of the politicking is in the final publication, but it does appear that the final product is at least twenty pages longer than the book I read. It would be safe to assume some changes. Greenblatt is a Harvard Professor who, after being deeply disturbed by the 2016 presidential election, started seeing parallels between the various tyrannical figures of the works of Shakespeare and Donald Trump. There's no subtlety in this. While the president is not named, each chapter has a handful of references that amount to a greatest list of hits regarding Trump's controversies on the campaign trail. This peters out towards the mid to late section of the book, but Greenblatt certainly pulls no punches when he likens Coriolanus going to the Volscians to destroy Rome to a certain republican going to Russia to harm America. You can really only groan at statements like that, which makes it difficult to take the book too seriously. Which is a shame because if one were to take a scalpel and excise most of the worst references to Trump, this would actually be a much improved book. The read is fast enough, and the ideas being conveyed are interesting. But most of it is contaminated by pandering, some points are over the top and obvious, while others are far more subtle and sophisticated. In effect it takes a timeless element of English literature and an important under-explored component of that body of work - the concept of tyranny - and mangles it into a politically motivated period piece. I imagine quite a few people will find the book amusing, being in on the joke and seeing things for what they are. A few might take it too seriously though, and that would be worrisome. For me there were enough smart bits to the book to keep me going, but the rest is too much of a drag for me to recommend it to too many people. So, my recommendation is that if you are in the democratic voting base (or the people who think the democrats are too corporate and right wing to properly represent the American left) and you are a fan of Shakespeare, this book may just be for you. Score? 79/100 | C+

  26. 5 out of 5

    Matt McCormick

    Absolutely fantastic. I pleasure to read, a pleasure to learn, a pleasure to appreciate an intelligent historian and writer. I'm handing this book out to any family member or friend I can get to read it.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Onur A

    Merkel suggested this book to me. And of course she was right, amazing piece to understand Shakespeare and connect to the tyrants of today.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    Ok- what would Shakespeare have to say about US politics today? Well, he said it already in plays like Henry VI, Richard III, King Lear, Hamlet, MacBeth, etc. this shortish 5 hour audiobook provides a fascinating contextual reading of Shakespeare on Tyrants and the politics of his time- and ours. Recommended!4 Ok- what would Shakespeare have to say about US politics today? Well, he said it already in plays like Henry VI, Richard III, King Lear, Hamlet, MacBeth, etc. this shortish 5 hour audiobook provides a fascinating contextual reading of Shakespeare on Tyrants and the politics of his time- and ours. Recommended!4⭐️

  29. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    A wonderful book, looking at what Shakespeare said about tyranny. I'm not a fan of Shakespeare. But Greenblatt made me appreciate the importance of the questions that he addressed in his plays, using oblique angles, and the cleverness in the way he addressed them. The author made me see patterns in the plays about Richard III, Macbeth, Lear, and Coriolanus--and their relevance to today's politics. "When an autocratic, paranoid, narcissistic ruler sits down with a civil servant and asks for his A wonderful book, looking at what Shakespeare said about tyranny. I'm not a fan of Shakespeare. But Greenblatt made me appreciate the importance of the questions that he addressed in his plays, using oblique angles, and the cleverness in the way he addressed them. The author made me see patterns in the plays about Richard III, Macbeth, Lear, and Coriolanus--and their relevance to today's politics. "When an autocratic, paranoid, narcissistic ruler sits down with a civil servant and asks for his loyalty, the state is in danger." Indeed! I really enjoyed having a long-term historical perspective on the dangers of a tyrant.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Richard Sloan

    Amazing insights. Without ever using Trump’s name, this is THE book for the resistance.

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