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Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics (Hardcover)

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During the period that Shakespeare wrote most of his plays, criticism of rulers was forbidden for fear of shutting down the theater or worse! So the bard reached back into history to draw portraits of individuals whose hunger for power, insecurities and corruption led to the the rise of tyrants and the terrible consequences that followed. Not once does Greenblatt mention the current resident of the White House though he acknowledges writing this book in reaction to the 2016 elections. Shakespeare's tales continue to be relevant!

— From Liza's Picks


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