Tuesday, November 8, 2016

What Makes a Leader?

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Image result for julius caesarFor my project, I intend to explore the way Shakespeare portrays authority and power, and to tie that in with one of my passions, American history. The way the Founding Fathers set up the government was heavily influenced by their experiences with Great Britain, both positive and negative. It's no secret that they took many key ideas and installations from Britain, but they changed a great deal in order to make the government weaker and more driven by the people.
In Shakespeare's plays, particularly Antony and Cleopatra and Julius Caesar, we see several displays of the powerful and how they use their power:

  • Octavius Caesar is very responsibility-driven and always puts aside emotion for duty. He calculates every move and comes out on top by entering only into situations in which he can win the fight. He does feel, but he never lets that get in the way of his rule.
  • Antony is his complete opposite, sacrificing duty for passion. He follows his heart, allying himself with Cleopatra and neglecting his responsibilities as a leader of Rome. He proves to be an effective and beloved leader when he wants to be, but ultimately he fails because of his love for Cleopatra.
  • Cleopatra is incredibly emotional and sensual, and we see this play in to everything from her interactions with her servants to her relationship with Antony. However, in a telling moment, she puts that aside in order to side with the winner: Caesar. She betrays Antony and helps defeat him in battle, enabling her country to prosper. Though she is passionate and loving, Cleopatra also proves to be as duty-bound as Caesar
  • Julius Caesar is portrayed as someone who would have been a great leader, but was seduced by his own public image, and came to believe his own legend. He held to certain principles and beliefs that held in his private life, but perhaps shouldn't have entered his public one.
So the real question becomes: what do we look for in a leader? What are important qualities in one, and why are some successful and some are not?
Both these plays discuss Rome, which obviously heavily influenced the western world. American Southerners modeled themselves after the Romans in many ways, so it should be interesting to see how the ideals of Rome compare with the ideals of early Americans.
I found this article when I was discussing this subject with Garret Fisher on Slack, which talks about what Shakespeare has to say on what's right or wrong in exercising power and authority. I'm certainly excited to do more!


  1. I like this idea. However, is it going to be primarily comparative or are you suggesting that what Shakespeare values in leadership (or how he represents leadership) is, in fact, later reflected in early American history? Just clarifying... Nevertheless, I think this paper sounds exciting. Good luck.

  2. I think this paper sounds very exciting! This is just a suggestion, but I think it would be controversial (but fun) to argue that by showing the folly of leaders in his plays, Shakespeare is not questioning excess of authority, but rather division of authority. This goes against the American grain, but a common theme throughout his plays is bad counsel. Therefore, true men of conscience and good leaders in Shakespeare, rely on their instincts rather than the opinions of others. The Romantic world of Shakespeare--and the American South (or at least a very, very, romanticized portrait of it)--is a place in which men are dictated by honor, principle, and knight errantry. Democracy cannot thrive in Shakespeare, and neither could it thrive in the antebellum American South. It always devolved into violence.

    1. That is brilliant - I may use that! Thanks!