Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics (Hardcover)

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As a scholar of English renaissance literature, Stephen Greenblatt is well-positioned to explore the premise that, throughout his career as playwright, William Shakespeare returned time and again to a troubling question: "How is it possible for a whole country to fall into the hands of a tyrant?" Whether or not the plays have an "uncanny relevance" to our current political moment, as Greenblatt asserts, remains an open question. The value of his readings lies in the way they encourage readers to return to Shakespeare's plays, which, like all artworks, inevitably make their arguments much more persuasively than any critic could hope to. -Graham

— From Summer Booknotes 2018


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.

Coverage from NPR

Product Details
ISBN: 9780393635751
ISBN-10: 0393635759
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Publication Date: May 8th, 2018
Pages: 224
Language: English