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2014 Shakespeare's Birthday Lecture

Brian Cummings
Shakespeare, Biography, and Anti-Biography


Does literary biography tell us as much about ourselves as it does about Shakespeare?


From the earliest stories about Shakespeare, to later biographies, to the reimagined Shakespeares of Henry James, James Joyce, and Jorge Luis Borges, Brian Cummings considers the nature of biography, memory, literature, and loss. Perhaps, Cummings suggests, the act of reading the plays and the sonnets creates a life form of its own, somewhere between writer and reader.


This lecture was delivered in the Folger's Elizabethan Theatre on Tuesday, April 3, 2014.


Brian Cummings is Anniversary Professor of English at the University of York. He has written widely on sixteenth-century religion and literature, including an edition of The Book of Common Prayer: The Texts of 1549, 1559, and 1662. His book The Literary Culture of the Reformation: Grammar and Grace has profoundly influenced scholarly thinking about the poetics of religion. His latest book, Mortal Thoughts: Religion, Secularity and Identity in Shakespeare and Early Modern Culture, appeared in 2013. In 2012 he gave the Clarendon Lectures at Oxford University on the subject of 'Bibliophobia', the title of his next book.


Professor Cummings's lecture opened the Folger Institute's NEH-funded collaborative research conference, Shakespeare and the Problem of Biography, part of the Folger's celebration of the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare's birth in 2014.


The annual Shakespeare's Birthday Lecture is sponsored by the Folger Institute.


Each year, a scholar delivers a lecture on Shakespeare as part of the Folger's celebration of the Bard's birthday. This tradition dates back to the library's founding in 1932 when Joseph Quincy Adams spoke on "Shakespeare and American Culture."


Brian Cummings:
Shakespeare, Biography, and Anti-Biography

Read the transcript

Brian Cummings, Shakespeare's Birthday Lecture, 2014

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