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Class News

Stephen Greenblatt '64 on Shakespeare's 450th birthday

The following conversation between Stephen Greenblatt '64 and Morris Dean '64 was posted on Morris's blogsite Moristotle & Co. on Wednesday, April 23, 2014, the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare's birth.

Stephen Greenblatt is the John Cogan University Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University. He is also a general editor of The Norton Anthology of English Literature and the general editor of The Norton Shakespeare.

As a classmate of Steve's at Yale, Morris felt that he could call on Steve to help celebrate Shakespeare's birthday, and Steve graciously agreed. Morris's questions are in gold font below.

Have you regularly celebrated Shakespeare's birthday (in ways other than doing an interview like this)?

No, not really in any formal or elaborate way. But I raise a glass to him on his birthday, and this year, since the date falls on the day I'm teaching my Shakespeare class, we'll have a proper party, with performances and a song.

As listed in your Wikipedia entry, you have written much about Shakespeare, including your 2005 biography, Will in the World, which I much enjoyed reading. Of all the time you have spent with Shakespeare, which was your happiest?

Shakespeare is not the kind of beloved who comes and goes. But among my books and essays, I particularly enjoyed writing an essay on Othello, many years ago, and I loved writing the biography. Among performances I've seen, for some reason a very old Much Ado, with Sam Waterston, stays in my mind as a special delight, along with two productions, in French of all things, directed by Arianne Mnouchkine.

How confident are you that Shakespeare was really born on April 23 in the year 1564?

Reasonably confident, though not 100% certain. Such certainty is not really possible for almost anything at that distance from us.

Have you revised many of your opinions about Shakespeare? What is the biggest such revision you have made?

The biggest revision is simply the transformation from my junior-high-school loathing of Shakespeare (as a consequence of a particularly miserable class on As You Like It) to my loving him.

Shakespeare's birthday doesn't seem to have become nearly so big a deal as James Joyce's Bloomsday (June 16, the day in 1904 on which his novel Ulysses was set). Is that fair? How do you feel about that?

Bloomsday figures the way it does because of Joyce's miraculous conjuring up of that particular day. There is nothing in Shakespeare comparable to that particularity. On the contrary, he was interested in the peculiar way in which his imagination could fly out across all times and places.

Enjoy the birthday celebration with your students today!