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TOPIC: Shakespeare and Leadership

Shakespeare and Leadership 9 years 2 months ago #2273

  • Denise Battista
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Alright, let's get this Forum ball rolling again. Where'd all our smarty Shakespeare people go?

I was listening to NPR the other day and they had a segment on Leadership. They cut to a 2004 interview with Stephen Greenblatt (Greenblatt published Will in the World that year) wherein he stated the following before cutting to Branagh's rally speech in HV:

"It would be possible, I believe, to argue that Shakespeare's tragic vision was the consequence of the political defects of his age. The absence of any conception of democratic institutions and the rule of a hereditary monarch with absolutist pretensions left little or no room to formulate an ethical object for secular ambition. Yet Shakespeare's own skepticism seemed to extend to the popular voice, so ironically treated in Julius Caesar and Coriolanus. That is, when he tried to imagine electioneering, voting, and representation, he conjured up situations in which the people, manipulated by wealthy and fathomlessly cynical politicians, were repeatedly induced to act against their own interests.

Rule in Shakespeare is the fate of those who have been born to it. It is the fate of those as well who have been driven to exercise it out of desperation, forced, like Richmond in Richard III, Edgar in Lear, or Malcolm in Macbeth, to confront an evil so appalling that they have no choice but to act. A relatively small number of other characters, generally born in the proximity of power but not its direct heirs, actively seek to seize the reins of government, and a few of these are ruthless or lucky enough to be successful, but Shakespeare inevitably depicts them as eventually broken by the burden they have shouldered. Perhaps this was for him a peculiar form of consolation or hope.

Governance, as Shakespeare imagines it, is an immense weight whose great emblem is the insomnia that afflicts the competent, tough-minded usurper Bolingbroke after he has become Henry IV. There are books now that profess to derive principles of governance from Shakespeare's works, but sleeplessness, tormenting, constant sleeplessness, is one of the only principles that he consistently depicts."

I was thinking about this, also in reference to Plato's Republic and the rise of the Philosopher King and the reluctance to rule, which I'm currently teaching at SFSU. 'Tis the season for such political philosophizing, and 'tis the forum for such talks in relation to Shakespeare.

What are you thoughts on leadership, reluctance, the heavy burden, and the right to rule?

I also think it's interesting to consider such plays as RIII and Coriolanus and the role of the media, if you will, in these plays. There really is nothing new under the sun.
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