MLA: Shakespeare- Narrative and Experience

Stephen J. Greenblatt, Harvard U, “Narrative and Experience: The Constraints of Coherence”

This is a live blogging of the session.


Jim Shapiro 1599: Who was Shakespeare sleeping with in 1599? Far too busy to sleep with anyone that year.
3 new plays, possibly four
involvement of moving timbers across the Thames
may still have been acting
shareholder in his company, part owner of theater performed in
“not a company keeper, wouldn’t be debauched”

Shakespeare had no time for sex.

The deftness of one biographer’s worst problems is resolved easily. Limit the bio to the plays. Interpreting plays is what most of us have been paid to do. Documents of his life are ambiguous. Key traces of his life are indistinct.

Was Wm S the same person as Wm Shakeshaft?
Was the 18 year old forced into marriage with Anne Hathaway?
What about the Shakespeare marriage paper with Anne Graftwight? (Name is questionable.)

Where did he get his money?
Lois thought maybe his acting was bartered.
Why was the property in his London home only accessed at 5 pounds?
What happened to all of his papers?

Dozens of questions.
Each answer is speculation.

“Studied and formal narrative”
Would we have anything?

Hints from Jonson… Nicholas Heard… about Shakespeare’s personal style.
No one thought to leave a nuanced account.
Different motives for writing Shakespeare’s time.
Greatest body of imaginative literature created by Shakespeare (since the ancient Greeks).

S 13, father lost money
18 married Anne, who was pregnant
32 son died
32 father’s coat of arms request renewed

“I passed more children, but thy sons and daughters will all be gentleman born.”

Most people of my generation and ilk, the university based study warned me away from linking the works of the author to the author’s life.
“Judging literature is like judging a pudding or a machine.”
Swept away generations of sweet, sappy biographies.
Offered instead interpretive techniques that did not require cultural understanding.
Social, cultural, religious questions were general, not individual. The Death of the Author came as no surprise to me.
Popular interest in lit bio remained high.
Gradually became the only discussion that anyone outside of the academy was involved in.

Editor urged to write in the past tense.
Turned out to require substantial adjustments. Casting what I had to say in the eternal present. Simple change altered the meaning of my work.
How many times had I done that?
Not too many times had I invoked the author in this way.
Was I narrating Shakespeare’s life or not?
Reshaped many claims.

Editor’s intense dislike of the word “we.”
We do not know when S came to London.
We do not have the documents we would like to examine.
Very hard to revise.
“I don’t know when S came to London.” I sounded like an idiot.
“It is not known when S came to London.” Hard to read.

Many universities tend to look like monasteries. Professors cherish the sense that they have withdrawn from the world. We know and deal in mysteries.

A particular glove maker’s son trying to charm the earl… What happened?

Biography is written for the general public, not academics.

Collapse boundary between elite and common.
(This seems to be a very important wave of idea at MLA in 2011.)

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