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Home :: Archive :: 2010 :: November ::
Stephen Greenblatt's _Shakespeare's Freedom_
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 21.0426  Friday, 5 November 2010

From:         Hardy M. Cook <
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Date:         Friday, November 5, 2010
Subject:      Stephen Greenblatt's _Shakespeare's Freedom_

The University of Chicago Press has announced the publication of the latest book by 
Stephen Greenblatt

http://www.press.uchicago.edu/presssite/metadata.epl?mode=synopsis&bookkey=6021785

Synopsis: Shakespeare lived in a world of absolutes -- of claims for the absolute 
authority of scripture, monarch, and God, and the authority of fathers over wives 
and children, the old over the young, and the gentle over the baseborn. With the 
elegance and verve for which he is well known, Stephen Greenblatt, author of the 
best-selling _Will in the World_, shows that Shakespeare was strikingly averse to 
such absolutes and constantly probed the possibility of freedom from them. Again and 
again, Shakespeare confounds the designs and pretensions of kings, generals, and 
churchmen. His aversion to absolutes even leads him to probe the exalted and 
seemingly limitless passions of his lovers.

Greenblatt explores this rich theme by addressing four of Shakespeare's 
preoccupations across all the genres in which he 
worked. He first considers the idea of beauty in Shakespeare's works, specifically 
his challenge to the cult of featureless perfection and his interest in 
distinguishing marks. He then turns to Shakespeare's interest in murderous hatred, 
most famously embodied in Shylock but seen also in the character Bernardine in 
_Measure for Measure_. Next Greenblatt considers the idea of Shakespearean 
authority-that is, Shakespeare's deep sense of the ethical ambiguity of power, 
including his own. Ultimately, Greenblatt takes up Shakespearean autonomy, in 
particular the freedom of artists, guided by distinctive forms of perception, to 
live by their own laws and to claim that their creations are singularly 
unconstrained.

A book that could only have been written by Stephen Greenblatt, 
_Shakespeare's Freedom_ is a wholly original and eloquent meditation by the most 
acclaimed and influential Shakespearean of our time

From the Harvard Gazette

http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2010/11/shakespeare-the-inventive-
conservative/

Shakespeare, the inventive conservative
Scholar Greenblatt says that even the Bard knew his creative limits

A new book by Stephen Greenblatt, the Shakespeare scholar who wrote the celebrated 
2004 biography "Will in the World," probes topics that the Bard pushed to their 
limits: beauty and the cult of perfection, murderous hatred, the exercise of power, 
and artistic autonomy.

Greenblatt observes in "Shakespeare's Freedom" that the playwright's linguistic 
inventions are a testament to his remarkable aesthetic autonomy. Indeed, Greenblatt 
notes, "Hamlet" alone contains 19 new words and 372 words already in circulation 
that had never been used in precisely that way. Yet, at the same time, Shakespeare 
seems to wrestle with the question of whether the artist -- or anyone else -- can 
truly be autonomous.

"There are boundaries," said Greenblatt, the John Cogan University Professor of the 
Humanities. "Now, Shakespeare may have encountered those boundaries much less than 
ordinary mortals, but there are things you want to say and things you can't."
Greenblatt acknowledges that while the book is called "Shakespeare's Freedom," it's 
just as much about Shakespeare's limits.

"I think Shakespeare understood that there was something wrong, something disturbed, 
about the dream that you could have no limits whatsoever," he said. "Any pleasure or 
value associated with having a life worth living would depend on your understanding 
that it was governed by constraints."

[ . . . ]

In writing "Shakespeare's Freedom," which began as a series of lectures that 
Greenblatt presented first at the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt and 
later at Rice University, Greenblatt was keenly aware that issues that have 
preoccupied American society in recent years, from concerns about torture to 
anxieties about radical Islam, inevitably color his interpretation of Shakespeare's 
work and influenced the book.

[ . . . ]

Greenblatt is known as the father of new historicism, which advocates the reading 
and understanding of literature in its historical context. Yet he would be the first 
to point out that the way in which observers reconstruct the historical context is 
mediated by their present situation. Literature, or any work of art, is at once tied 
to a specific context and able to transcend that context as it takes on new meanings 
for different audiences.

[ . . . ]


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