In this England, the threat of Roman Catholic invasion or insurrection meant that free speech was impossible.
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What makes Shakespeare different, Greenblatt urges, is that he so radically transcends prudence and necessity:. We care about Shakespeare not because he gives voice to the late Elizabethan age but because he examines the deep causes of the crises with which the late Elizabethans were faced. As these deep causes also animate many of the crises that beleaguer our own age, we are able to say that he provides us with a medium through which to reexamine our assumptions about ourselves and the conduct of our lives.
Uncharacteristically, though by no means for the only time in this short book, Greenblatt labors the point. The payoff? At the very least, The Rape of Lucrece would have been pertinent: the overlaps between sexual compulsion, networks of family and friendship, and the abuse of power have seldom been more starkly exposed.
The three parts of Henry VI , often overlooked, are treated in two chapters. York fails, but his son ascends the throne as Edward IV. On any reckoning, it is hard to portray Edward as a tyrant. It is in discussing Richard that Tyrant finds its voice. This voice is angry:. He is pathologically narcissistic and supremely arrogant. He has a grotesque sense of entitlement, never doubting that he can do whatever he chooses.
He loves to bark orders and to watch underlings scurry to carry them out. He expects absolute loyalty, but he is incapable of gratitude.
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The feelings of others mean nothing to him. He has no natural grace, no sense of shared humanity, no decency. He is not merely indifferent to the law; he hates it and takes pleasure in breaking it. He hates it because it gets in his way and because it stands for a notion of the public good that he holds in contempt. He divides the world into winners and losers. The winners arouse his regard insofar as he can use them for his own ends; the losers arouse only his scorn. The public good is something only losers like to talk about. What he likes to talk about is winning. He has always had wealth; he was born into it and makes ample use of it.
But though he enjoys having what money gets him, it is not what most excites him. What excites him is the joy of domination. He is a bully. Easily enraged, he strikes out at anyone who stands in his way. He enjoys seeing others cringe, tremble, or wince with pain. He is gifted at detecting weakness and deft at mockery and insult. The skills attract followers who are drawn to the same cruel delight, even if they cannot have it to his unmatched degree.
Though they know that he is dangerous, the followers help him advance to his goal, which is the possession of supreme power. His possession of power includes the domination of women, but he despises them far more than desires them. Sexual conquest excites him, but only for the endlessly reiterated proof that he can have anything he likes. He knows that those he grabs hate him. Much might be said about these paragraphs. For now, all I want to stress is that in them Greenblatt offers us a distorted — in fact, an egregiously distorted — picture of Richard as Shakespeare imagines him. The point is that Richard, both despite and on account of his faults, is supposed to be alluring.
Like the Milton of Paradise Lost , Shakespeare understood well that without making evil attractive — without investing it with sympathetic and even admirable attributes — it is impossible fully to suggest how and why it so forcefully makes its way in the world. Of course, Greenblatt is far too intelligent and accomplished a critic to be unaware of such considerations. The problem, versions of which manifest themselves on all but a few pages of this book, is that he has allowed himself to become the prisoner of his argument, of his rage, or perhaps even of his publisher: Richard III is a proxy for the moron elected to serve as the 45th president of the United States of America, and that is that.
There are two more chapters on Richard. And so on.
Against a Tyrant: The Far End, Book 1 (Unabridged)
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. The reason for the disconnection between text and interpretation is not far to seek: in circumstances and character, Macbeth is even less suitable than Richard III as a proxy for Trump.
Lear and Leontes are both kings of long standing. Greenblatt shrugs off the first of these without much ado. The rub is that he is not, on even the most elastic definition, a tyrant; his tragedy is that, having become habituated to power, he must live with the consequences of his abdication. No matter. Looking at Lear and Leontes, an argument might be made that because monarchy whether elective or based on primogeniture accords such importance to the moods and character of a single human being, Shakespeare believes it to be a dangerously imperfect form of government.
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With the proviso that Shakespeare elsewhere shows himself just as skeptical about the merits of democracy, aristocracy, theocracy, and republicanism, such an argument would, it seems to me, have more than plausibility to recommend it. But as all considerations of this sort would dilute the polemical currency with which Greenblatt has invested his book, we hear nothing of them. At great cost, the resistance prevails.
Pass over in silence the continued unsuitability of tyranny as a category through which to interpret the play it may be that all tyrants abuse their power cruelly; it does not follow that all acts of cruelty or abuses of power are tyrannical. The real stumbling block is the suggestion that King Lear offers us more than a simulacrum of moral or political resolution. This is not cheering stuff. The eight pages devoted to Julius Caesar are overwhelmingly the best part of Tyrant.
In them, Greenblatt dwells in compelling detail on the moral, personal, and political contortions into which Brutus and his fellow conspirators are driven by their decision to assassinate Caesar before he and the Roman mob could make him into a monarch. Ostensibly, their motives are to save the republic from what they think of as the tyranny of one-man rule.
Brutus is higher toned than most in rationalizing his desires and actions but cannot recognize in himself the urge to protect and perpetuate the status he enjoys as a prominent member of the ruling patrician class. Take his orchard scene soliloquy, in which he affects to deliberate on the justice of killing Caesar.
In Plato's Apology , Socrates recounts an incident in which the Thirty once ordered him and four other men to bring before them Leon of Salamis , a man known for his justice and upright character, for execution. While the other four men obeyed, Socrates refused, not wanting to partake in the guilt of the executioners. However, he did not attempt to warn or save Leon of Salamis. By disobeying, Socrates may have been placing his own life in jeopardy, and he claimed it was only the disbanding of the oligarchy soon afterward that saved his life:.
This was of course only one of many instances in which they issued such instructions, their object being to implicate as many people as possible in their crimes. On this occasion, however, I again made it clear, not by my words but by my actions, that the attention I paid to death was zero if that is not too unrefined a claim ; but that I gave all my attention to avoiding doing anything unjust or unholy.
Powerful as it was, that government did not terrify me into doing a wrong action. When we came out of the rotunda, the other four went to Salamis and arrested Leon, but I simply went home.
Later on in his Seventh Letter , Plato describes the interaction between the Thirty and Socrates from his own point of view:. The Italian historian Luciano Canfora has inferred that another of Socrates' students, Xenophon, might have played an important part in the rule of the Thirty, as one of the two commanders of the cavalry, which were the Thirty's militia. Indeed, in his book Hipparchos Commander of the cavalry , Xenophon mentions just one of the commanders there were always two , only to revile him, while never mentioning the other.
Socrates is summoned before the group and ordered not to instruct or speak to anyone, whereupon Socrates mocks the order by asking sarcastically whether he will be allowed to ask to buy food in the marketplace.
Xenophon uses the episode to illustrate both Socrates' own critique of the slaughtering of Athenian citizens by the Thirty, as well as make the case that the relationship between Critias and Socrates had significantly deteriorated by the time Critias obtained power. The names of the Thirty are listed by Xenophon : . From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. The Thirty at Athens p. Hackett Publishing, The Trial of Socrates. Anchor Books, reprinted edition Ancient Tyranny , p.
Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, April 8, Stone Breaks the Socrates Story". The New York Times Magazine. Retrieved Hidden categories: Articles containing Ancient Greek-language text All articles with unsourced statements Articles with unsourced statements from September Articles with specifically marked weasel-worded phrases from September Wikipedia articles needing clarification from November Articles with unsourced statements from September Namespaces Article Talk.
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