The conference will close with a return to some of the presenting problems, and it will do so in a conversational and reflective way. While not formal respondents, the final panelists will surely raise again some issues for clarification and restatement. Katherine Duncan-Jones will put some pressure on the notion of popular biography and historicized fiction in other media. Duncan-Jones, Professor of English at the University of Oxford, has written a life of Shakespeare, hers a popular (in both senses of the word) book, with the title Ungentle Shakespeare: Scenes from his Life (Arden, 2001). Duncan-Jones approached this book from the perspective of a textual editor, intimately familiar with the works, especially the Sonnets, which are especially open to autobiographical interpretations. She will ask to what extent popular biographical writing can lead new readers and /or playgoers to engage with Shakespeare’s writing. What if we think of biography as a tool by which readers may learn more about a historical time and place? Or as a stepping stone into texts that are increasingly archaic in language and dense in structure? Should we embrace biography as a point of access to academic study rather than push it away as peripheral?
With Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare (University of Chicago Press, c1980), Stephen Greenblatt seemed to single-handedly launch a new historical approach to literary criticism. Greenblatt, the John Cogan University Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University, was hardly a solitary voice in recontextualizing textual studies, but he has been a pace-setting scholar of Renaissance studies ever since. Beyond the expected scholarly production, he has written Will in the World, a National Book Award Finalist biography of Shakespeare, and he has coauthored Cardenio, a play based on a lost play of Shakespeare’s. Greenblatt will bring the conference to a close by evoking a longing to speak with the dead. As does literature, biography opens enduring questions about human experience, as they both tap into a human need to connect with and understand others, even across time. Above all, he will ask, what kind of story do we want to tell about Shakespeare, this object of veneration? For our longing to speak with the dead is also a longing to tell stories about the dead.