“Shakespeare Explains the 2016 Election” was the title of an Oct. 8 opinion article in the New York Times, by Stephen Greenblatt. Shakespeare “addressed a problem: How could a great country wind up being governed by a sociopath?” Rome let itself be ruled by Caligula (and, we might now add, Germany by Hitler, Russia by Stalin, Iraq by Saddam, and so on).
According to Greenblatt, Shakespeare showed how England, by various failings, allowed a “loathsome, perverted monster” to rise to its headship: Richard, who was “inwardly tormented by insecurity and rage, the consequences of a miserable, unloved childhood and a twisted spine that made people recoil at the sight of him. Haunted by self-loathing and a sense of his own ugliness — he is repeatedly likened to a boar or rooting hog — he found refuge in a feeling of entitlement, blustering overconfidence, misogyny and a merciless penchant for bullying.” And more about Richard’s “psychopathology,” which drove him (in the words of Gray’s “Elegy in a Country Churchyard”) “to wade through slaughter to a throne, / And shut the gates of mercy on mankind.”
Aharon Eviatar’s humanistic blog drew my attention to this article, and it provokes me to revive something I once printed in the program notes for an audience at a theatre: “Prologue to a Benefit Performance of “Richard III.”