If I had a pound for each time I was challenged, ‘What’s Shakespeare got to do with me?‘, this blog would have more bells and whistles on it, as well as many more posts to reflect not having to work for a living.
This week’s post was prompted in part by reading somewhere in my recent internet travels, the notion of ‘keeping politics out of Shakespeare.’ That plus a ‘setting the world to rights‘ drinking session which was actively, intensely political, and which was also chock-full of Shakespearean dilemmas and situations.
To the first prompt, I’d say that keeping politics out of Shakespeare is irrational, impossible, like alcohol-free beer, gluten-free bread, or a vegan BBQ (sits back and waits for the complaints). That’s not to say that there is a political message in all the plays, but that they so often treat with political subject matter. The point is that they are malleable, interpretable, and therefore can and have been applicable to every society that followed Shakespeare’s.
In terms of the second, in our discussions we lamented the absence of strong opposition to the distinctly worrying and undemocratic developments in the UK and further afield. We talked about the idea that the opposition can and must take many forms, and how strongly the artistic community in the US seem to have stepped up.
Stephen Greenblatt‘s latest book is part of this. It’s a wonderfully satirical polemic against tyranny in the tradition of Swift, Orwell, and (on perhaps a less political plane) Sir Terry Pratchett (GNU).
Take a look at this, amongst many gems I could have used in this super book:
Although insecurity, overconfidence, and murderous rage are strange bedfellows, they all coexist in the tyrant’s soul. He has servants and associates, but in effect he is alone. Institutional restraints have all failed. The internal and external censors that keep most ordinary mortals, let alone rulers of nations, from sending irrational messages in the middle of the night or acting on every crazed impulse are absent. […] The person with whome he had shared his life is no longer part of it.
He’s talking about Macbeth – I swear it …
Stephen Greenblatt, Tyrant: Shakespeare on Power, (The Bodley Head: London, 2018)