Labyrinth Books and the Princeton Public Library invite you to hear world-renowned Shakespeare scholar Stephen Greenblatt and acclaimed critic, Renaissance scholar, and poet Jeff Dolven explore the playwright’s insight into bad (and often mad) rulers.
As an aging, tenacious Elizabeth I clung to power, a talented playwright probed the social causes, the psychological roots, and the twisted consequences of tyranny. In exploring the psyche (and psychoses) of the likes of Richard III, Macbeth, Lear, Coriolanus, and the societies they rule over, Stephen Greenblatt illuminates the ways in which William Shakespeare delved into the lust for absolute power and the catastrophic consequences of its execution.
Cherished institutions seem fragile, political classes are in disarray, economic misery fuels populist anger, people knowingly accept being lied to, partisan rancor dominates, spectacular indecency rules—these aspects of a society in crisis fascinated Shakespeare and shaped some of his most memorable plays. With uncanny insight, he shone a spotlight on the infantile psychology and unquenchable narcissistic appetites of demagogues—and the cynicism and opportunism of the various enablers and hangers-on who surround them—and imagined how they might be stopped. As Greenblatt shows, Shakespeare’s work, in this as in so many other ways, remains vitally relevant today.
Stephen Greenblatt is Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University. Also General Editor of The Norton Anthology of English Literature, he is the author of eleven books, including The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve: The Story that Created Us, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern (winner of the 2011 National Book Award and the 2012 Pulitzer Prize); Shakespeare's Freedom; and Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare. Jeff Dolven is Professor of English at Princeton University and the author of Senses of Style: Poetry before Interpretation; Scenes of Instruction; and of the volume of poems Speculative Music. He is an editor-at-large at Cabinet Magazine.