ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Shakespeare in the Age of Populism

Tyrant: Shakespeare on Power by Stephen Greenblatt, London: Bodley Head, 2018; pp 224, `1,615.



William Shakespeare, the greatest bard and playwright of English language, often finds quirky ways to come alive and meaningfully touch our life with his discernible depiction of human nature and social crises. At a time when the promises of liberal democracy increasingly appear to be in the hands of leaders with little or no regard for democratic values, Stephen Greenblatt, one of the most renowned Shakespeare scholars, takes us to the world of the playwright to make a better sense of the present political milieu. In October 2016, Greenblatt essayed an article for the New York Times, with an unusually intriguing title—“Shakespeare Explains the 2016 Election”—where he forewarned his readers, by dissecting the tyrannical characters from Shakespeare, that collective failure might see the undeserving ascend to power. The outcome of the United States election confirmed his apprehensions and made him revisit the playwright and explore the similarities of pattern in the rise of a Shakespearean tyrant and a modern democratic-tyrant. The book is the result of this exploration.

The central idea of the book is to analyse how an entire country falls into the hands of a ruler who is not only incapable to rule, but also egregiously harmful to the people and the society he aspires to rule. Shakespeare grappled with this idea in his time, and the crisis of the contemporary democratic politics compelled Greenblatt to take recourse to Shakespeare for an explanation. It may be argued that in his plays, Shakespeare portrayed a society and a time which were doubly removed and irreconcilably different from our age. Most of his plays were based on the events of centuries away from Shakespeare’s own time. There was no semblance of liberal democracy in those absolute monarchies, nor were there institutional checks and balances to restrain a tyrant.

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Updated On : 1st Mar, 2021
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