Forgot to blog about this HuffPost column when Google alerted me to it a couple of weeks ago. Who is this (self-anointed?) “expert” Shai Baitel, and why do his dyspeptic ruminations on Kevin Spacey as Richard III (under the pompous title “Power and Downfall — Between Shakespeare and Arab Tyrants”) merit placement as political analysis? Ah, but this is the magic of invoking Shakespeare to discuss contemporary politics. Any hint of today’s political violence adds the spice of perceived relevance to a simple run-through of an old history play.
But can Shakespeare’s Richard III, in Mendes’s thoughtful interpretation and irresistibly brought to life by Spacey, compare to the ilk of the rulers of Iran, to Bashar al-Assad, to Hassan Nasrallah, to Muammar Gaddafi?
And referring to Shakespeare’s plays automatically gives depth to otherwise incoherent ponderings on the Middle East.
But unlike Richard III our Middle Eastern despots have a larger arsenal at their hands: they are a 21st century variety of ruthless sovereigns, with propaganda, mass media, surveillance and intelligence agencies, sophisticated weapons and technology, as tools to keep their people in check and secure their rule. Richard III was left with shamelessly sowing terror. He did not hesitate to kill, including members of his own family, to reach his goal. Whoever had the temerity to disagree with Richard III’s opinion or argued with him went to prison — at best — or had to die. And he had the absolute power of the armed forces, which he used against his enemies. In that respect there are parallels indeed between Richard III and the modern-day Arab tyrannical leaders.