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The Tyrant and His Enablers

Wish I’d read this before my Shakespeare final. As fascinating and engaging as ever.

Longreads

Stephen Greenblatt | Excerpt adapted from Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics | W. W. Norton & Company | May 2018 | 14 minutes (3,827 words)

From the early 1590s, at the beginning of his career, all the way through to its end, Shakespeare grappled again and again with a deeply unsettling question: how is it possible for a whole country to fall into the hands of a tyrant?

“A king rules over willing subjects,” wrote the influential sixteenth-century Scottish scholar George Buchanan, “a tyrant over unwilling.” The institutions of a free society are designed to ward off those who would govern, as Buchanan put it, “not for their country but for themselves, who take account not of the public interest but of their own pleasure.” Under what circumstances, Shakespeare asked himself, do such cherished institutions, seemingly deep-rooted and impregnable, suddenly prove fragile? Why do large numbers of people knowingly accept being…

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