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Shakespeare for Strategists
06 May 2021

IDSS 25th Anniversary Lecture Series

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies (IDSS), later inaugurated as the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS). To commemorate the 25th anniversary, RSIS is featuring a lecture series featuring the leading strategists in the world, the first being one by Professor Eliot Cohen on 6 May.


Strategic studies has always been understood as a subject area that taps into many academic disciplines. Traditionally, the academic disciplines most closely associated with strategic studies have been political science and international studies, history, and in particular, military history. However, other academic disciplines — from economics, geography, sociology, to anthropology — can and have provided important insights into the study of strategy. So, why not literature as well?

The Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies (IDSS) celebrates its 25th anniversary this year; as part of the celebrations, Professor Eliot Cohen, the Robert E. Osgood Professor and Dean of the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, delivered a webinar on “Shakespeare for Strategists”, in which he examined the various insights that literature in general, and Shakespeare in particular, can have on the study of strategic and political decision-making.

Prof Cohen, who played an influential role in the establishment of IDSS, argued that while literature may be the study of great literary works, what makes literature great is that it illustrates something about the human condition. It may be storytelling, but the characters that inhabit those stories are so well crafted that they seem real; as we read, we come to identify with those characters, and the words and deeds of those characters come to teach something about ourselves.

“Rough magic” was how Shakespeare described the exercise of power, and that is a good description of it. And we can see “rough magic” being played out in the great theatre of politics and war throughout history, even today. Shakespeare’s insights into the exercise of power — to include the use of force — are as valid now as they ever have been.

Catch it here on the RSISVideoCast YouTube channel:

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