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.