An Imitative Industry: Creating Tyrants after T.

Miguel Ramalhete Gomes



This article begins by addressing a persistent question about creativity in literary criticism: can literary criticism ever be a creative industry or is it condemned to be an uncreative one, locked in a repetitious secondary place in relation to the texts that it writes about? As a way out of this problem, this article proposes that literary criticism can be best understood as a form of imitative writing, in the specific terms used by Sir Philip Sidney in his Defence of Poesy. It is argued that Sidney’s definition of poesy can be used to describe important aspects of the forms and purposes of literary criticism today. This argument is illustrated by a recent instance of “imitative literary criticism,” Stephen Greenblatt’s Tyrant: Shakespeare on Power (2018), which intervenes in North-American politics through an analysis of tyrants and their enablers in Shakespeare. In a dramatic tour-de-force, Greenblatt’s book focuses indirectly on the figure of Donald Trump without ever naming the then President of the United States. This article discusses why this is done and focuses on issues of imitation, exemplarity, and emulation in his book, while taking into account the history of Greenblatt’s engagement with Shakespeare’s “oblique angles.”


Literary criticism; imitation; creativity; emulation; Sir Philip Sidney; William Shakespeare; Stephen Greenblatt; Donald Trump




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