By Chet Yarbrough
By: Stephen Greenblatt
Narrated by: Edoardo Ballerini
Stephen Jay Greenblatt (Writer, Harvard University Professor.).
Shakespeare’s plays expose the perfidy of tyrants that reminds one of Vladmir Putin’s actions in 2022. Greenblatt notes Shakespeare explains tyrants rise when governments show weakness at their center. One can conclude the economic collapse of the U.S.S.R. is the proximate cause of Putin’s ascension.
Stephen Greenblatt offers a clever summary of tyrants in Shakespeare’s plays. Greenblatt’s book is published in 2018.
Shakespeare’s tyrants are destined to fail in a variety of ways. One must remember that Shakespeare’s plays are not history but have elements of history in their story. Dramatic affect and a livable wage are what motivate Shakespeare to write for the theatre.
Prescient insight to the nature of human beings is what makes Shakespeare a seer whose prose and plays survive centuries of analysis and earned adulation.
King Richard III is a martinet who barks orders for little reason other than to exercise power. He acts with the arrogance of a narcissist. He murders brothers, nephews, and subordinates who get in his way or refuse to obey his orders. He expects loyalty first, with any opposition viewed as disloyalty.
King Richard cares nothing for rules or human life. His followers are sycophants at best and enablers at least. King Richard III murders brothers and confidents to secure the throne.
He marries for lust and control, murders King Henry VI, marries the assassinated King’s widow, and dies in an ignominious battle. Having killed everyone near him, he grows paranoid of those around him. That paranoia cripples his effectiveness as a sovereign. He may have lost his crown in battle, but his murder of followers and managerial incompetence destine him for failure.
Greenblatt recounts the many tyrants exposed in Shakespeare’s plays but none, other than Richard III, seem comparable to Putin. Putin gathered support of kleptocratic sycophants that are beginning to recognize their wealth and success is threatened by Putin’s foolish attempt to re-annex Ukraine.
Like Shakespeare’s Richard III, Putin is alienating followers and murdering or imprisoning competitors who challenge his leadership.
Greenblatt summarizes events of Shakespeare’s plays to show how tyrants are editors of their own defeat. One hopes there is enough Russian resistance to forestall a nuclear war caused by a tyrant who cares nothing for human life, other than his own.
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