Stephen Greenblatt’s Visit

May 27, 2012

On a memorable visit to Oxford, sponsored by the Astor Fund, Stephen Greenblatt, a critic who has long been exploring the fascinating and problematic spaces between literary texts and cultural history, generously contributed to what he has described as the circulation of social energy: he gave two lectures, participated actively in a conference and met with graduate students. His lecture on ‘Shakespeare and the Shape of Life’ explored the structures by which Shakespearean characters analyze their own stories, and brought in parallels with evolutionary biology. The resolutely secular emphasis of this analysis countered the religious turn in current Renaissance studies, and his lecture the next day focussed on what must be a limit case in the claim that all early modern discourse was fundamentally religious: the reception of Lucretius’ De rerum natura. Professor Greenblatt also met with a group of graduate students and discussed his own experiences as a graduate student at Cambridge and Yale and answered questions about the current state of higher education. The discussion focussed particularly on the importance of exploring eye-opening experiences in literary and historical research and the apparent contemporaneity of authors such as Lucretius.

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