Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Shakespeare as Political Analyst: Richard the Third and Barack the First

Note: This is an article about literary matters with some satirical content. If you only want analysis of the Middle East and international political affairs and you don't like satire either please do not read this article. We will soon return to our regularly scheduled programming  While this article is intended to amuse somewhat it is seriously intended to show my appreciation for Shakespeare's brilliance as a political analyst.

By Barry Rubin

I’ve long been impressed by the value of William Shakespeare’s work as masterpieces of political analysis that often can be applied to our own times. And I hope to do a series of such studies for your edification.

Let’s begin with one of my favorites, the opening speech by the future Richard III in the play of the same name. Before we start, note that there is some satirical aspect to this article. It should not be taken completely literally though it is literary. But Shakespeare's magnificent insight into human psychology and politics definitely has something to teach us here.

The framework of "Richard III" is based on a contradiction very appropriate for the contemporary West today. The House of York, to which Richard belongs, has won the War of the Roses. All its members need to do is stick together and maintain their principles in order to rule a peaceful, happy England  for a very long time to come. So Richard should be joyous, shouldn’t he? He begins:

“Now is the winter of our discontent/Made glorious summer by this sun of York;/And all the clouds that lour’d [lowered] upon our house/In the deep bosom of the ocean [are] buried.”

It's 1483, the “sun,” actually son, of York [King Edward IV] has won the kingship and everything is great. Think of the situation of the West, and of Western civilization in our era. Almost exactly 500 years after the events in the play it has won the long Cold War with the USSR. Communism is pretty much dead; democracy is triumphant. The Western world is stable, democratic, and prosperous, headed for a new era of peace and plenty. Everyone should be rejoicing in the most wonderful, prosperous, and happiest countries in world history, right?


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Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press. Other recent books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center  and of his blog, Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.

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