I love a good subtweet. This is probably the most elaborate subtweet I’ve ever read too. In the book, Stephen Greenblatt looks at several examples of Shakespeare writing about tyrants, using a wide definition of what exactly makes a tyrant as his model. In general, he’s thinking about rulers who do not represent the will of the people, who work in self-serving ways, whose rise might be illegitimate in various ways, who are ill-equipped, who are morally compromised, who are mentally compromised etc. Hmmmmm.
Anyway, his focus here is several of the plays beginning with Richard II and moving through Henry IVs and then Henry VIs into Richard III. He discusses King Lear, Macbeth, Coriolanus, and Julius Caesar among others. He also covers both in-text and extra-text elements from each. For example, he discusses a commissioned set of performances of Richard II that led to the punishment of the patron for adding an element of contemporary politics. In their defense, the company simply said it was a paycheck, and this was good enough defense. In addition, Greenblatt spends a lot of time looking at why Shakespeare so often looked to the far English past for examples to write about, or put criticisms in the mouths of the insane, or looked especially at Greece and Rome (and contemporary Italy) for corrupt references. The book is fun and thoughtful and provides a lot of textual evidence and reading to discuss the ways in which Shakespeare repeatedly wrote about power and those who wield it.