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Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  821 ratings  ·  212 reviews
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 ...more
Hardcover, 224 pages
Published May 8th 2018 by W. W. Norton Company
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4.18  · 
Rating details
 ·  821 ratings  ·  212 reviews

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Jeffrey Keeten
Dec 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
”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, hi ...more
Bill  Kerwin
Jun 20, 2018 rated it really liked it

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
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 w
Heather Jones
May 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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.
Jul 29, 2018 rated it liked it
"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 loyal ...more
Aug 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: arc, from-publisher
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.

Carol Douglas
May 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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
Katie Dimtses
Aug 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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 contempora
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 fra
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
Sep 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Кожній епосі - свого Шекспіра. Шекспір у Грінблатта завжди політичний, а в цій книжці, написаній після ганебної передвиборчої кампанії Трампа і його приходу до влади, і поготів. Власне, ця коротенька книжечка - щось на кшталт спроби "продати" Шекспіра юним читачам, яким та доба видається дуже припалою пилом і далекою від їхнього живого досвіду.

Гріблатт пише про те, шо одна з центральних тем у Шекспіра - це те, як тиран може прийти до влади, і як суспільство схиляється до співучасті чи бодай безд
Michael Austin
Jun 19, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2018
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 com ...more
Linda Robinson
Jul 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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.

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
Jun 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 10, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Jan 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: all readers of all ages
Recommended to Brent by: WWNorton
Remarkable... and so relevant.
Thanks for the loan(s), Atlanta-Fulton Public Library.
Highest recommendation.
Feb 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
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.
Jim Angstadt
Jun 19, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: dnf
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 politi
Jul 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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
Dennis Murphy
Jul 15, 2018 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Those swathes of the democratic voter base who enjoy shakespeare
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 p
Matt McCormick
Sep 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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.
Aug 27, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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⭐ ...more
May 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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 l ...more
Richard S
May 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Amazing insights. Without ever using Trump’s name, this is THE book for the resistance.
Jul 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads-arc
A fascinating book featuring Shakespeare's musings on politics. The parallels between current politics and those during the time of Shakespeare are terrifying.
Jul 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
In this highly readable, mainstream work of literary criticism, Greenblatt discusses Shakespeare's tyrants in a way that offers an uncanny commentary on current political events. He establishes the method for talking about such things--both Shakespeare's and his own--in the first chapter, "Oblique Angles," and proceeds to make his way chronologically through the tyrants in the Shakespeare canon, lacing each chapter with obvious but unspoken contemporary parallels. The result is a book where almo ...more
Jul 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Not what I consider literary criticism, really -- just a very timely and much needed tonic for our troubled times.
Jun 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This was one of those random, 'I saw this flashing on my library's book river and was attracted by the shiny red cover,' kind of pick up. It was short and I'm a big fan of the Bard, especially when it comes to his politics. Now, when I read the back and saw that it compared some of Shakespeare's villains and tyrants to the current administration?

Yes please.

But this was so much more than just drawing direct comparisons -- it makes you remember that one of the reasons these plays endured for so lo
May 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I very rarely give books five stars so I'll have room at the top for the truly wonderful. I loved this book! It made me snort with laughter and spit with anger. I have read/studied/taught quite a wide range of Shakespeare plays, but had never dipped into the histories. Now I want to read them all at once, especially Coriolanus. Am also grateful to be shown a new facet of Winter's Tale, perhaps my favorite play, even more beloved now. Greenblatt's essential humanity and wit comes shining through ...more
Jun 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
It is always a true pleasure to read the scholarly account of literary themes and topics. This one is not an exception. It is well written, and the reading goes smoothly with quotes that are demonstrative and also easily recognizable.
The topic of tyranny and dictators resonates strongly with me as it is a hot one in modern world overrun by tyranny in all forms - oligarchy, tyranny per se , authoritarian regimes, etc, especially now when the world finds itself on the brink of the right-wring tur
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Stephen Greenblatt (Ph.D. Yale) is Cogan University Professor of English and American Literature and Language at Harvard University. Also General Editor of The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Eighth Edition, he is the author of nine books, including Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare; Hamlet in Purgatory; Practicing New Historicism; Marvelous Possessions: The Wonder of t ...more
“It is an heretic that makes the fire, Not she which burns in’t. (2.3.114–15)” 1 likes
“Finally, there a motley crowd of those who carry out his orders, some reluctantly but simply eager to avoid trouble; others with gusto, hoping to seize something along the way for themselves; still others enjoying the cruel game of making his targets, often high in the social hierarchy, suffer and die. The aspiring tyrant never lacks for such people, in Shakespeare and, from what I can tell, in life. True, there might be a world somewhere where this does not happen. Such is the world that Montaigne’s friend Étienne de La Boétie once envisaged, where the dictator would fall simply because of a massive, nonviolent refusal to cooperate. He would call for some strawberries or for a round of executions, and no one would move a muscle. But Shakespeare seems to have regarded such a proto-Gandhian idea as hopeless pie in the sky. He thought that the tyrant would always find willing executioners, men who would, in Hamlet’s phrase, “make love to this employment” (Hamlet 5.2.57).” 1 likes
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