16. jan, 2020

Stephen Greenblatt - Tyrant, Shakespeare on politics

The German Chancellor Dr. Angela Merkel was snapshotted during her summer holidays, reading in Stephen Greenblatt's "Tyrant, Shakespeare on Politics" (192 pages) on an Austrian balcony.

I imagine that Dr. Merkel regards this book as a 'must read' for professional politicians and not as a 'I-always-wanted-to-know-more-about'. Knowing Dr. Merkel I presume that she will hold her conclusions after reading for herself until eternity. She will definitely not post a comment down under. But she will act accordingly.


I must admit that I have hardly read poems, dramas or comedies of William Shakespeare. Each time I think of him I must correct myself. Rather than an exceptional exponent of the late-renaissance I tend to see Shakespeare as an early 19th century author like Dickens, Goethe, Schiller or Hugo. What a queer idea! Our English teacher at the municipal atheneum believed that teens should not even try to understand Shakespeare. He didn't forbid to read Shakespeare, but neither insisted or stimulated us to do so. There are many books that I have read three times in my life: as a teen, as an adult and once again as an adult. Each time my context had changed and with the context the meaning of the textbook. I'm easily impressed by people who may cite Shakespeare. Or Rousseau. Or Goethe ....

The American professor of literature Stephen Greenblatt has performed many studies on William Shakespeare over the past twenty years. He is an expert so to say. Greenblatt not only maps the Shakespearean texts back into the past of the old Romans, he is also able to establish a link between 16th century politics and contemporary history. But he doesn't mention names. While reading the book I got the impression that the names of Putin, Trump, Hitler and other autocrats had been deleted afterwards. The parallels are flabbergasting though. So lots of learning points for Dr. Merkel. By the way, tyrants do also pop up in business life.

Professor Greenblatt emerges as a dedicated analytical psychologist. Guiding us through the dramas of Shakespeare he shows us which conditions and circumstances make a tyrant or an autocrat. Shakespeares dramas are the precursor of the handbook of psychiatric disorders DSM-V. Group dynamics did the rest. Not so much has changed today. But what has mankind learned from the past? What did the German chancelor learn from the book? Or was this all 'gefundenes Fressen' for her? We will probably never know.

There are striking similarities between Greenblatt and Shakespeare. Shakespeare lived in a time where freedom of speech had to be invented yet. If he felt that he should express himself critically he sought a matching parallel in history, preferably 1.500 years of age or even older. Greenblatt's aim is not to blame Donald Trump in particular. The only thing he wants us to show is that Mr. Trump is not one of a kind. Greenblatt deserves public support for this excellent eye opener.