Greenblatt’s perceptive analysis and expert examination of the various tyrannical figures in Shakespeare’s works has an eerie parallel and peculiar familiarity to current political trends. Using the central characters of Shakespeare’s plays the author compellingly and captivatingly scrutinizes the conditions that permit the rise of despotic, dictatorial, and high-handed leaders. Through skillful and knowledgeable use of quotes and excerpted passages, he provides a brilliant illustration of how intimidation and strong-arm tactics can suppress any political resistance and why anyone would 'be drawn to a leader manifestly unsuited to govern, someone dangerously impulsive or viciously conniving or indifferent to the truth' ... Overall, this book is full of surprising and shocking insights that examine character politics and the exploitation of authoritarianism as it pertains to literary criticism. A must read for any student of classic literature, history, and politics.
...the book asks sharp questions about the ways William Shakespeare interrogates the idea of political authority in his plays ... Greenblatt very effectively conveys the deep, wrenching anxiety this kind of shift produced and the fundamental questions it could raise, in Shakespeare's day and in all other eras. 'Why, in some circumstances, does evidence of mendacity, crudeness, or cruelty serve not as a fatal disadvantage but as an allure, attracting ardent followers?' he asks ... Shakespeare lived five centuries ago, yet Greenblatt's book has the feel of a series of urgent and very contemporary dispatches.
...[an] elegant and deftly written book ... Much of the time, the book’s political purpose is masked by Greenblatt’s expert and shrewd reading of plays, those well-known and those less so. Sometimes, however, the light shines from behind the scrim, and the connections become obvious and somewhat forced ... A number of passages like this in Tyrant are too heavy handed and thus not entirely convincing. Greenblatt’s political anxieties are serious and his diagnoses may have merit, but they should have been made uncloaked ... Greenblatt is powerful and more convincing, though, in his discussion of those who aid and support tyrants. He is particularly acute on the ways in which they deceive themselves about the end that awaits them ... We know so little about Shakespeare’s political views because he left virtually nothing behind to tell us what they were. But we may guess, and as a guide to the guesswork, Stephen Greenblatt is, whatever his own politics may be, excellent.
Slyly and wittily, he analyzes political events in Shakespeare’s world in terms of our own experience ... Tyrant is a fine polemic, but it is considerably more than that. We learn not simply what Trump tells us about Shakespeare but what Shakespeare tells us about Trump. Illuminating scene after scene, Greenblatt is especially fine on the mechanisms of tyranny, its ecology, so to speak, leaving one deeply moved all over again by Shakespeare’s profound and direct understanding of what it is to be human.
Mr. Greenblatt provides genuine insight into Shakespeare’s views on politics, but by using them to criticize a contemporary politician, he 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. I am not convinced that the Tower of London and Trump Tower belong in the same universe of discourse ... Tyrant documents the centrality of politics in Shakespeare’s works, revealing how well he understood and portrayed such basic political concepts as sovereignty, legitimacy, leadership and tyranny ... The strongest part of Tyrant is Mr. Greenblatt’s opening analysis of the three Henry VI plays and Richard III ... Mr. Greenblatt also handles his central subject well, convincingly establishing that a critique of tyranny is basic to Shakespeare’s presentation of political life ... Mr. Greenblatt strains, in sometimes embarrassing ways, to create parallels between situations in Shakespeare’s plays and contemporary politics ... Some readers may find these touches amusing, but the humor generally falls flat. And the author’s agenda leads him into some basic errors of history.
Without a mention of the American government, Greenblatt puts together a scathing portrait of Trump through the words of a different writer. And most of Greenblatt’s historical arguments read less like scholarship and more like excuses to cite great lines that fit our times ... in their [Tyrant and Clare Asquith's Shakespeare and the Resistance] insistence on the written word’s ability to act as a counterweight to power, it’s hard to see these books as anything but miniature acts of heroism.
...even those who don’t share Greenblatt’s political perspective should find his well- informed survey of the making and unmaking of autocratic rulers to be instructive and entertaining ... Tyrant ranges across an ample array of Shakespeare’s dramatic works as Greenblatt explores Shakespeare’s fascination with the 'deeply unsettling question: how is it possible for a whole country to fall into the hands of a tyrant?' ... Concluding this lively book on an optimistic note, he points to the 'political action of ordinary citizens' as the antidote.
With lucid economy, Greenblatt illuminates the twisted but surprisingly vulnerable psyches of Shakespeare’s power-hungry tyrants and traces the horrid chain of offenses they commit against innocent individuals and against the body politic ... Greenblatt hints, in his analysis of Shakespeare’s plays, at a critical perspective of urgent relevance in the world of twenty-first-century politics. Compelling literary history and analysis.
Greenblatt’s latest book is Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics. Although it is not exactly a popular work, it shows him moving further than ever before toward the role of the self-consciously public intellectual — in this case occupying a space somewhere between James Comey and the Timothy Snyder of On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century (2017). Greenblatt adjusts his language accordingly ... Most of these claims are transparently over-determined, but in the course of making them Greenblatt offers up some deft and occasionally provocative readings of the text. Unfortunately, these readings too often work against his chosen line ... Although I expected to disagree with this and that in Tyrant, I also expected to admire it and to find myself in sympathy with its aims. I’ve spent a good deal of time trying to figure out why this has not, in fact, proved to be the case. One answer relates to the ill-defined and under-explored use of tyranny as an idea and a heuristic.
Greenblatt convincingly and bracingly explores the circumstances that allow for the rise of autocratic rulers ... The entire book is full of insight, both for lovers of literature and for students of history and politics.