Saturday, October 26, 2013

Op-Ed Shakespeare by Kate Havard

Shakespeare wrote about kings. Not, as the tour guide at the Globe Theatre told me, because the nobility were the reality stars of their day and the masses wanted to know all their business, but because Shakespeare, like his near-contemporaries John Locke and Thomas Hobbes, was a serious political philosopher. Here, in five essays on five very different regimes portrayed by Shakespeare, Professor Timothy W. Burns of Skidmore College builds on this notion.

Rulers who do well, Burns writes, take special care to teach their subjects a respect for justice and an awe for the divine. But they cannot rely on either if they wish to survive. In Julius Caesar, for example, we begin with a tragedy of self-government: Rome is in crisis, oddly, because it has produced too many excellent men. Caesar, Antony, and Brutus all might make excellent kings, but they have no established way to share power. The threat of tyranny is real, and there is no way to prevent it, except, apparently, through murder. Where there is no structural outlet for ambition, the principle of “might makes right” prevails. Civil war breaks out, the strongest man wins, and a republic devolves into an empire

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