• So I really love Time Magazine’s pick for person of the year, the Protester.
    • Kurt Andersen’s piece elaborating on Time’s choice of the Protester connects the dots so cogently among the seemingly disparate global protest movements.
    • But to return to the focus of this blog, connecting our present moment to that of the Early Modern, you know who really hated and fear protests, Shakespeare. Now, as most Shakespearean scholars would agree, it is nearly impossible to make any categorical, general statements about Shakespeare’s works. One cannot really make the claim that the “Shakespeare” who comes through in the plays and poems was a misogynist, or an anti-Semite, or a racist, or a Catholic, or a Protestant.
    • In his 1912 essay for the PMLA, Frederick Tupper, Jr. asserts that readers of Shakespeare “are one in their diagnosis of Shakespeare’s mob – that it is something disorganized, dangerous, unintelligent.” It is very difficult to dispute that Shakespeare saw pure anarchy in the “mob.”
    • Here are just some examples of Shakespeare’s depiction of protests:

      Coriolanus: When one is thinking about the haves and have-nots in Shakespeare’s plays, Coriolanus stands out. Shakespeare presents a Rome very much divided along economic class lines.

    • In an episode that Shakespeare borrows from his source, Plutarch’s Lives, Menenius Agrippa, spokesperson for the senate, tells a fable in which the different organs of the body riot against the stomach for hording all of the food.
    •  In comes Coriolanus, who has this to say about the plebeians’ demands for fair corn prices: “Hang ‘em!
    • When discussing Shakespeare’s disgust with social protests, one of my favorite scenes to talk about is from Julius Caesar.
    • Shakespeare chooses to open with two patricians Marullus and Flavius, berating a crowd of plebeians for their openly rejoicing in Caesar’s victory.
    • in the following scene we see the result of unleashing the vulgus. In a very dark bit a of comedy, Cinna, a poet, encounters the crowd that Antony has just addressed. The crowd confuses this Cinna for a different Cinna, one of the conspirators.
    • While the comedy in this scene reminds me of something worthy of Monty Python, Shakespeare speaks to an unsavory facet of crowd psychology – none of us is as cruel as all of us. A Shakespearean mob becomes an expression of a collective id, a mass of violent urges blindly seeking out a target.
    • To wrap things up, in Shakespeare the protester does not find a friend. What we may see as truly the distilled essence of our politics, the grass roots protesters sacrificing their lives to enact meaningful change, Shakespeare saw as the destruction of society.

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