Tyrant

Shakespeare on Politics
Narrated by: Edoardo Ballerini
Length: 5 hrs and 26 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (150 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

World-renowned Shakespeare scholar Stephen Greenblatt explores the playwright's insight into bad (and often mad) rulers. 

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 fragile, political classes are in disarray, economic misery fuels populist anger, people knowingly accept being lied to, partisan rancor dominates, spectacular indecency rules - these aspects of a society in crisis fascinated Shakespeare and shaped some of his most memorable plays. With uncanny insight, he shone a spotlight on the infantile psychology and unquenchable narcissistic appetites of demagogues - and the cynicism and opportunism of the various enablers and hangers-on who surround them - and imagined how they might be stopped. As Greenblatt shows, Shakespeare's work, in this as in so many other ways, remains vitally relevant today.

©2018 Stephen Greenblatt (P)2018 Recorded Books

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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Incredible

One of the best books I've read or listened to all year. Can't recommend more highly.

4 people found this helpful

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Too Close for Comfort

What an enjoyable listen. As the author reviewed the atrocities and calamities embodied in the Shakespearean tyrants and systems of oppression, I felt somewhat cheered up about our current political mess, and readied myself for it to get worse before it gets better. It just goes to show - the more things change, the more they stay the same. My only real regret is my near-certainty that the people who would most benefit from this wouldn’t dream of reading it or listening to it.

16 people found this helpful

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What is the city but the people

"What is the city but the people"
- Coriolanus: Act 3 Scene 1

"Tyrants are enemies of the future."
- Stephen Greenblatt, Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics

Stephen Greenblatt, like Harold Bloom, is a man steeped in Shakespeare. So, it is obvious that Greenblatt would be a wise choice to turn to to see if Shakespeare can give us any information (via Shakespeare) on the behavior, motives, and reason for tyrants. And he does, well. He examines such plays as Henry VI (all three), Richard II, Richard III, King Lear, Macbeth, Julius Caesar, and Coriolanus to better understand, via Shakespeare, Tyrants.

The subtitle is a bit oblique. He isn't looking at politics. Greenblatt is looking squarely at Trump and the demagogues across the pond. The parallels he finds and the examples he gives square too close to our modern political realities. He looks at questions like: "Why do large number of people knowingly accept being lied to? How does a figure like Richard III or Macbeth ascend to the throne." He also asks fundamentally important questions like: "Why would anyone...be drawn to a leader manifestly unsuited to govern, someone dangerously impulsive or viciously conniving or indifferent to 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, his spectacular indecency?" It sounds like Greenblatt had a model tyrant in mind as he wrote this book.

That said, it isn't Greenblatt's most inventive or insightful book. IT is timely, and I guess that is the reason for it. Interesting, timely, not his greatest.

3 people found this helpful

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Timely essay on Shakespeare's tyrants

Greenblatt's scholarly elucidation of Shakespeare's tyrants implicitly comment on the spectacle of Trump. Masterful and thoroughly enjoyable.

5 people found this helpful

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Completely gripping, unstoppable

Stephan Greenblatt digs deep into Shakespeare's history plays and brings them to life and contemporary relevance.
A knowledge to the Henry plays and Richard the 3rd is helpful as also of English History.
Still, tyrants, like happy families, are all fairly alike

1 person found this helpful

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Worthwhile read.

Outstanding, interesting, and shows just how relevant Shakespeare still is and always will be. Take the time to read this one if you like both Shakespeare and the study of human behavior.

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Simply outstanding

This is an outstanding collection. Greenblatt does an amazing job of weaving through many of Shakespeare's best known plays in order to distill his political philosophy on tyrants. In the age of Trump and other tyrants it is just so amazing the insights that Shakespeare had into what it means to be a tyrant, how they gain support and ultimately how they fall. Insightful, illuminating and inspiring.

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Shockingly Bad

I've read everything by Stephen Greenblatt- but this book was abysmal. Firstly, all Shakespeare buffs already know the allegory between Richard Ii and Trump- this feels like a NYT OP Ed peicemealed into a book. It's appalling.

There is little about Lear, hardly nothing about Macbeth- and sadly this book fails to discuss anything about the tragedy of the tyrant. Which of course it can't, because he thesis is warning of the tyrant on the horizon (Trump) - but even Shakespeare's most horrible had compassion- but I guess that's what's miasing in humanity.

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A Timely Civics Lesson from 400 Years Ago

Shakespeare's depictions and analyses of the pursuit and exercise of absolute political power by psychologically damaged or unstable characters are combined in a meaningful and convincing way in this latest book by an authoritative Shakespeare scholar. The characters act out their warped inner fantasies and delusions in characteristic thuggish, capricious, and sometimes clownish ways. A recurring feature in the plays are the number and type of the characters who aid an abet the mad pursuit and exercise of uncontrolled political power. The panoply of Shakespeare's plays dealing with the subject are here: King Henry VI, Richard III, Macbeth, King Lear, The Winter's Tale, Coriolanus, and Julius Caesar. Jack Cade's demagogic pursuit of power in Henry VI and the class manipulation in Coriolanus are barely distinguishable from politics in the here and now. The book has the added virtue of well documented quotes to the plays to make its points. It is worthwhile to buy the book to read and also listen to the audiobook in my opinion.

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Shakespeare is always pertinent for our time

Shakespeare is always pertinent for our time, and in TYRANT, Stephen Greenblatt presents the relevance of the bard’s plays to the brutality of the making and sustaining of a tyrant and narcissistic politicians—qualities that have not changed. This is a literary and political book, confidently written, clearly thought out, and brilliantly original. Ballerini’s performance is resonant and well suited to acting the particular parts of the referenced plays. He accomplished every aspect well. This is an exceptional Audible recording.