There are a surprising number of characters in Shakespeare who propose or ask or even demand that someone tell their life’s story. (Think of Hamlet’s dying words to Horatio: “And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain / To tell my story.”) While that may not seem surprising on the face of it – Shakespeare was a storyteller after all – this idea of reimagining your life so that it tells a story was not a common one in Shakespeare’s time.
In this episode of Shakespeare Unlimited, Harvard University’s Stephen Greenblatt expands upon the talk he gave earlier this year for the Folger Institute’s Shakespeare Anniversary Lecture Series, about how Shakespeare shapes characters and narratives. He also explores how the French Renaissance writer Montaigne influenced Shakespeare, and how Shakespeare pushed back on Montaigne’s ideas.
Stephen Greenblatt is the John Cogan University Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University. He is the author of – among other books – Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare and The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. He was interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.
We had help from Professor Greenblatt's assistant, Aubrey Everett; from Anna Steinbock in the Harvard Office of Public Affairs & Communications and from Jeff Peters and the staff of the Marketplace studios in Los Angeles.