...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.