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Shakespeare Unlimited podcast

James Shapiro on Shakespeare in a Divided America

Shakespeare Unlimited: Episode 140

Even with our country feeling more divided than it has in 50 years, there are still things that tie us all together. Loving our families, cheering on a favorite team, and—according James Shapiro—Shakespeare.

Shapiro is an eminent Shakespeare scholar, who, like many Americans, has found himself confused and troubled lately by the divisions in our country. And as an eminent Shakespeare scholar, he looked to Shakespeare to respond to the source of his confusion. In his new book, Shakespeare in a Divided America, Shapiro puts forward what he sees as a completely new and unique approach to American history. The book looks at times when our nation seemed at its most fragile and disconnected, and tells those stories through their connections to Shakespeare. Shapiro talks about those stories with Barbara Bogaev.

Listen to Shakespeare Unlimited on Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music, Spotify, Soundcloud, NPR One, or where you get your podcasts.

James Shapiro is the Larry Miller professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, and the Shakespeare scholar in residence at New York’s Public Theater. He has written several award-winning books on Shakespeare including A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599, Contested Will; Who Wrote Shakespeare?, and The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606. His latest book, Shakespeare in a Divided America: What His Plays Tell Us About Our Past and Future, was published by Penguin Press in 2020.

From our Shakespeare Unlimited podcast. Published March 17, 2020. © Folger Shakespeare Library. All rights reserved. This podcast episode, “O Nation Miserable,” was produced by Richard Paul. Garland Scott is the associate producer. It was edited by Gail Kern Paster. Ben Lauer is the web producer. We had technical help from Andrew Feliciano at Voice Trax West in Studio City, California, and Jim Bittle, Senior Director of Broadcast and Multimedia Technology at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

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Taming on the American Stage
Read an excerpt from Shakespeare in a Divided America.

The Year of Lear
Listen to an interview with James Shapiro about his book The Year of Lear.

When Romeo Was a Woman
Listen to a podcast episode about 19th-century superstar Charlotte Cushman.


MICHAEL WITMORE: Even with our country feeling more divided than it has in 50 years, there are still things that tie us all together. Loving our families, cheering on a favorite team, and—according to one expert… Shakespeare.

From the Folger Shakespeare Library, this is Shakespeare Unlimited. I’m Michael Witmore, the Folger’s director. James Shapiro is an eminent Shakespeare scholar, who—like a lot of Americans—has found himself confused and troubled lately by the divisions in our country. Because Jim is who he is, he thought deeply about his own state of confusion… And because Jim is who he is, he looked to Shakespeare to respond to the source of his confusion.

The result of all this thinking is a new book, Shakespeare in a Divided America. In it, Jim puts forward what he sees as a completely new and unique approach to American history. The book looks at times when our nation seemed at its most fragile and disconnected and tells those stories through their connections to Shakespeare.

We invited Jim to come in and talk with us about his new book in a podcast episode that we call “O Nation Miserable.” James Shapiro is interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.


BARBARA BOGAEV: You write in your introduction that one of the first glimmers of this book came to you while you were researching an anthology on what Americans had written about Shakespeare. And you stumbled on this 1895 essay by the reformer Jane Addams. You say it was just a revelation. So why don’t you tell us about that and what path it set you on?

JAMES SHAPIRO: The Library of America asked me to put together an anthology on Shakespeare in America. Like most Shakespeareans in America, I’m an anglophile. So I knew remarkably little about America and even less about Shakespeare in America. I stumbled upon this extraordinary essay about Gilded Age America written by Jane Addams, the reformer, the Nobel-Prize-winning individual who I knew almost nothing about. She went to college, studied Shakespeare, started writing quite extraordinary essays about Shakespeare as an undergraduate. Shakespeare was really part of her life.

She was from the Chicago elite and her father and her father’s circle were familiar with Pullman, who we know from the Pullman carriages and train cars and the like. Pullman had built a town just outside of Chicago, which he inventively named Pullman: required everybody to rent from him, use all of his utilities and the like. And then his business took a down-turn and he leaned on his employees to still pay the rent even if he was laying them off their jobs. And there was a massive strike. If you think of a strike that affects technology, transportation, everything that matters in the United States—that was the Pullman Strike of 1895.

She wrote an extraordinary essay, Modern Lear, looking at these figures like Pullman who owned everybody and thought of themselves as men more sinned against than sinning. And at the same time, she was able to see both sides of the equation. It’s the most undervalued essay on Shakespeare in America.

BOGAEV: So right then, you saw someone drilling down into a defining moment in America through the lens of Shakespeare and you thought, “Wait a second. I could do that.”

SHAPIRO: I could do it, not quite as well, but I could graze over 250 years of American history looking at interventions like hers, and try to understand the ways in which Shakespeare helps us understand ourselves, where we’ve come from, and where possibly we’re heading as a nation.

BOGAEV: Well, this question is a little… I mean it’s a little facetious because you’re a Shakespeare scholar—of course, you’re going to talk about Shakespeare. But it occurred to me as I was reading just the very beginning of your book; why Shakespeare… to do this? I mean, has Shakespeare really popped up that consistently at times of conflict in America? And is he that deeply embedded in our national consciousness? You could argue that you could have delved deeply into how different American’s have experienced Catholicism or how they experienced technological change at these key moments in history, and perhaps had the same result.

SHAPIRO: You could, but you wouldn’t have the same result. I’ll try to explain as best I can why that’s the case. It didn’t have to turn out this way, but Shakespeare from the early 19th century on was part of every American’s inheritance; whether it was the young Abraham Lincoln reading Shakespeare in elocution readers, up to the present, where 90 percent of American high schools teach Shakespeare. Shakespeare is one of the very few authors, and the only one in the common core, who is named as a writer that all Americans should study along the way.

The difference between, say, Catholicism and Shakespeare is that Catholicism is something that some people practice and other people are terrified by. But Shakespeare is commonly owned, which means it’s one of the very few sites where we can meet and negotiate our differences. No one has the cultural stature and status and authority of Shakespeare. Maybe the Bible does, but then we’re getting back into our differences rather than our commonalities.

BOGAEV: Well, let’s talk about the founding fathers. You write that they leaned on Shakespeare’s histories to give them a road map for where the young republic might be heading. So what lessons did they draw from Shakespeare? And what Shakespeare were they drawing from? I mean, were they reading Shakespeare?

SHAPIRO: Sure, they’re reading Shakespeare. Thomas Jefferson’s reading Shakespeare. George Washington’s going to see Shakespeare in Washington, DC as we now think of it.

BOGAEV: Because during the revolutionary period, theater was allowed in the South but it was banned in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.

SHAPIRO: The North and the South had very different relationships to Shakespeare. New England was anti-theatrical. That puritan strain persisted until the end of the 18th century and well on after that. When you read Emily Dickinson writing about Shakespeare you still feel a half century later that anti-theatrical prejudice. In the South, Shakespeare was much more performed than he was at that time in the North. And those are interesting histories and trajectories.

But to get back to the founding fathers, you need a political roadmap, and it’s not as if Machiavelli is going to answer all of your questions. So men like John Adams, our second president, sat down and read the histories from start to finish as a way of trying to understand factionalism, republicanism, all the issues that are front and center in the founding decades of our nation. He’s trying to understand them.

He knows his Shakespeare so well, he can take a play like Henry V and rewrite a scene in which Henry V exposes traitors on the eve of sailing to France. And rewrites it as a parable of a foreign ruler in collusion with forces in America to influence who’s in the White House. And you can’t read that and not think about what’s going on today with Ukraine, Putin, and Trump.

So these were smart men. They understood that Shakespeare, in a way, allowed them to identify the problems that were baked at the founding of our nation.

BOGAEV: Although you point this out, that in the early years of the Republic it seemed really improbable that American’s would adopt England’s national poet as their own.

SHAPIRO: We went to war twice.

BOGAEV: Right.

SHAPIRO: I mean there wasn’t much alternative. You can look around in 1820s, 1830s, 1840s, and say, “Okay, we want our own.” By the time Melville is reviewing Hawthorne, 10 or 15 years after that he’s saying, “Well, some Shakespeare is born right now on the banks of the Ohio river.” Everybody is pointing a finger at themselves, and yet, Shakespeare remains the one author we all study, we all know, we all turn to.

BOGAEV: And it does seem that the United States gravitated towards certain plays. Of course, the British have their histories—and although you mentioned the history play—but Henry V matters so much more in Brittan than it does in the US. One of the American plays that you write about, or you call an American play is Othello.


BOGAEV: It’s the first conflict that you tackle in the book. You write that it speaks to John Quincy Adams and the issue of miscegenation. So first, what was John Quincy Adams’ obsession with Othello and interracial marriage? Because he was from Massachusetts, right, which was this early state to renounce slavery, and he was a leading abolitionist.

SHAPIRO: He was the fiercest abolitionist of his day. Here’s a man who reentered the House of Representatives after serving as President in order to continue the fight to oppose the expansion of slave states like Texas. He was all in against slavery.

And yet, he couldn’t wrap his head around the idea of a Black man having sex with a white woman. He never writes about it. He kept voluminous diaries; he wrote quite a bit. But this was a subject that was in a sense taboo. However, in 1833 at the worst dinner party in recorded history, he was seated in Boston next to Fanny Campbell.

BOGAEV: A famous actress of the day.

SHAPIRO: She’s the super-star Shakespeare actress of the world and she’s on a world tour—really an American tour, I should say. She’s meeting with the President and she’s seated next to the former President. He spends the evening mansplaining Shakespeare to the greatest Shakespeare actor of the day.

He goes home, writes in his diary, “She’s not as good looking or as smart as people say she is.” She goes home, and she writes down what he says. She publishes it two years later and in the account of her travels in America, in which she kind of calls him out.

He freaked and quickly wrote two essays. He’d never written literary criticism before. He writes that Desdemona, for falling in love with and marrying Othello, got what she deserved when she’s smothered and strangled at the play’s end. And it just takes your breath away.

BOGAEV: He just digs himself in deeper with these essays, when she calls him out. It’s just, you dislike John Quincy Adams more by the moment as that story goes.

SHAPIRO: You know, I think he was a great American and I honor his commitment to fighting slavery. Part of the essay is, in fact, about Fanny Campbell. Part of the essay is about his own wife, and you can really understand culture by reading this essay.

Unbeknownst to him, 15 years later, Fanny Campbell had married a guy who was chasing her on her American tour. He turned out to inherit the second largest slave plantation in Georgia. She, an abolitionist, was suddenly a slave mistress and she wrote from there to a friend. “Did I ever tell you about the time I had dinner with John Quincy Adams in Boston? And he said for Desdemona in marrying…,” and she uses the N-word here as quoting him, “…got her just desserts.”

And I’m sitting here thinking, “Hey, did the sixth President of the United States, this abolitionist from Massachusetts, use the N-word? Did people use that in states that were opposed to slavery?” And after a lot of research I discovered the answer was yes. So I learned a lot about our country in the course of investigating even heroes like John Quincy Adams.

BOGAEV: Well, he really was a man of his moment though. I mean this is the 1830s and this difficult transition period where you had people like Adams who both abhorred slavery, but they couldn’t get behind interracial marriage. I’m reading your essay and I’m thinking, this is really a guess-who’s-coming-to-dinner story in a way about hypocrisy, right? My question was, what’s the upshot of how Shakespeare figures into this moment of conflict?

SHAPIRO: I wouldn’t necessarily call it hypocrisy. I would say unexamined assumptions. You know, when his mom went and saw Othello in the 1780’s in London, she writes, “When I saw the sooty Moor touch Desdemona, I just pulled back.” She was horrified by that. Her skin crawled watching it. Even though she knew it was a white actor in blackface.

And she had the courage to admit in that letter to her son-in-law, “I don’t know whether it was my own prejudices from my education or whether it was kind of natural and instinctive recoiling on my part.” And her son never admitted that there was a choice there. For John Quincy Adams, it was natural.

BOGAEV: So in a way, Shakespeare touches on that un-woke part of John Quincy Adams or of one’s self?

SHAPIRO: Yeah. All of us.

BOGAEV: Because in some ways it seems to give bigots an outlet or a place to express their racism?

SHAPIRO: It’s all of us.

BOGAEV: I mean you kind of see it both ways.

SHAPIRO: I would say choose 100 Americans, sit them in a Shakespeare class, and have them start talking about Othello or Lear or Macbeth. Within a couple of hours you’ll hear them admitting to things that they wouldn’t in a bar after the fifth drink.

You cannot talk Shakespeare for any length of time without revealing your attitudes towards marriage, the slipperiness of gender, otherness. Shakespeare’s plays, comedies especially, are about creating new community by keeping individuals out.  What is the story of America other than who’s in and who’s on the other side of that big wall we’re building?

BOGAEV: Well, it’s interesting in the context of this conversation, and race, and Othello, that Othello was performed widely throughout the South in this quarter century before the Civil War. You point that out.

SHAPIRO: Yeah, that was.

BOGAEV: Why? Why wasn’t this play about a Black man marrying a white woman taboo?

SHAPIRO: For some reason, Southerners could go to see a play in which a white actor has darkened his skin and felt comfortable that Othello was heroic. One of the great early writers about Shakespeare in America was a confederate sympathizer named Mary Preston who lived in Maryland not far from where the Booth family lived. She writes a beautiful essay on Othello which ends with saying, “Othello was a white man.” So this kind of willful instance on, do I believe what’s written, or what I want to believe? And she believed, like many others, what she preferred to believe.

BOGAEV: So what did they think Othello was about? Was it about being a man? Manliness? Was it about the military life?

SHAPIRO: It was about a lot of things but it certainly wasn’t about Black/white.

BOGAEV: Yeah, and this idea of conflict over a manliness and what goes on at a time of war—that’s what you get into in a chapter about Manifest Destiny.

SHAPIRO: Yeah, Manifest Destiny is one of those wonderful concepts. In 1845, a journalist says, “It’s America’s Manifest Destiny to start being an empire, invade Texas. Let’s get a whole army to go into Central America, lets push the Brits out of the northwest, and let’s accept our God-given expansionist rights.”

Pushing that, promoting that was a new notion of manliness. Out was the old, if you will, British restrained, sober, manliness. Replacing it was a hyper-aggressive Andrew-Jacksonian or, if you want to say, Trumpian notion of aggressive manliness.

What was so wonderful was Shakespeare was perfectly suited to these competing notions of manliness. You could do Macbeth one way; you could do him the other. You could do Hamlet one way; you could do him the other.

The only one you couldn’t quite do was Romeo. Romeo became a real problem because at some point, you had to be effeminate, and the other points in the play, you had to pick up a sword and fight for your life. It turned out at that time that women were much better playing Romeo and could handle both ends of that better than men.

So, Shakespeare becomes a way of explaining Manifest Destiny, and Manifest Destiny becomes a way of explaining what’s happening on the Shakespearean stage.

BOGAEV: Right, an example you give in this discussion about Manifest Destiny involves a story I’ve never heard about Ulysses S. Grant and his experiences in Shakespearean theater. I mean, what? This was not in my history books.


BOGAEV: Why don’t you tell us the story?

SHAPIRO: That was the most fun, and I got this in from a great British scholar. Michael Dobson told me that there was an archive at USC that had the memoirs of a confederate general, General Longstreet. And Longstreet describes how in 1845, right after this call for Manifest Destiny, the United States sends 4,000 troops to the Mexican border to precipitate a war against Mexico and expand the reach of America. They’re waiting for months for orders to cross the Rio Grande and the soldiers are fighting, they’re drinking, it’s a disaster.

The officers decide, “We’re going to build a theater.” One of the first plays they put on is Othello and they’re looking around for a guy, because there are no women available, to play Desdemona. And there’s this second lieutenant who’s 5’7, 135, and as Longstreet recalled, he looked great in a dress. And it was Ulysses S. Grant who rehearsed.

BOGAEV: He was apparently really pretty.

SHAPIRO: You know, he was kind of handsome, girlish qualities.

BOGAEV: We only know the later Ulysses S. Grant.

SHAPIRO: Yeah, you know, you see pictures of him from this time and he kind of looks like Rosalind in As You Like It. He rehearsed the part. They cast a guy named Theodoric Porter pretty quickly as Othello, the Moor of Venice. But Theodoric Porter decided he couldn’t get up enough sentiment for Grant and they sent to New Orleans for a professional actress to come in and play the part. That’s, you know, at the very same year that Charlotte Cushman, this tough, brilliant actor, celebrated in her own day, lesbian who had to suppress her sexual identity, is a super-star as Romeo crossing over the other way.

One of the saddest moments for me of opportunities missed is right around his second inaugural. Grant went to see Charlotte Cushman act in Washington, DC and asked to meet her after her performance and she just blew him off. She had no interest in doing so. Had she known he was prepping to play Desdemona, she might have seem him and that would have been a conversation I would have really enjoyed to have listened to.

BOGAEV: Yeah, so what, after the Civil War it was, “We’re all done with women playing these men’s parts.”

SHAPIRO: That was it. Yeah, you know.

BOGAEV: It’s okay for men to be soft again?

SHAPIRO: I’ll tell you, 700 thousand people die and you kind of put the tarnish on the swagger of masculine manliness.

BOGAEV: Well, another classic example that you discuss to illustrate one of your theses in this book; that community and Shakespeare’s plays is often built on its principle of exclusion. You were talking about this earlier—American identity has been formed on these analogous lines. We defined ourselves against those whom we reject, keep out, or lock-up.

Certainly this has reverberations in what’s going on right now in our country. And the example is that in the 19th century when eastern- and southern-European immigrants start pouring into America, that’s when The Tempest takes on a new meaning for certain scholars. Certain politically motivated scholars and audience members—I’m sure—who are on the anti-immigrant side. So what did they read into The Tempest?

SHAPIRO: In 1916, the 300th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, massive celebrations in America, and 1916 kind of marks a 20 year period in which pressure to suppress immigration is growing. Both sides of this debate over immigration turn to Shakespeare to make its case.

Henry Cabot Lodge, the great senator from Massachusetts, who was most intent on closing the doors behind those who had come to America, decided to use Shakespeare as a stick to beat those eastern-European, or Jewish, or Italians flooding this country, as far as he was concerned. For him, it was an Anglo-Saxon country and if they couldn’t accept the fact that this was an Anglo-Saxon nation, they had no business in this country.

On the other side, those who believed that these unwashed masses could be acculturated also turned to Shakespeare. One of them, a man named Percy MacKaye who was celebrated for his large-scale public masques or productions that involved thousands—casts of thousands—decided with a lot of local support to put on a great show in New York City.

He wrote a play called Caliban. It was a play, essentially, that took The Tempest and turned it into an allegory of the acculturation of Caliban, who was a stand-in for the unwashed immigrant, potential rapist, threat, who has to be part of this culture eventually.

And these two forces kept at it until 1924 when we instituted racially-driven categories for excluding immigrants; a policy which didn’t change until under Lyndon Johnson in 1965, we removed them. And now, under Trump, there’s great effort to close the gate again on immigrants. So you cannot talk about immigration in America without Shakespeare coming into the conversation.

BOGAEV: Yeah, and in the effort of full disclosure, Folger plays a part in this. There’s another example of people kind of revealing their racism without overtly saying, “I’m racist.”

SHAPIRO: Yeah. You know—

BOGAEV: It’s a speech that was made at the opening of the Folger Shakespeare Library.

SHAPIRO: Correct.

BOGAEV: It’s pretty explicit.

SHAPIRO: I teach at an Ivy League institution which would not have hired me as a professor in 1932. Every major institution in this country was biased, and the Folger, at that time, was not an exception. At the opening of the Folger Shakespeare Library a different Adams, Joseph Quincy Adams, gave a speech to those gathered there that included congressmen, foreign dignitaries, ambassadors, in which he argued that Shakespeare is the force that keeps out, if you will, the riff-raff and has become crucial to re-educating those immigrants into this Anglo-Saxon culture.

It’s a disheartening speech to read but it reflects the attitude of many at the time, and of many today that want to imagine a white, Anglo-Saxon America. They have marshalled Shakespeare in their defense. Shakespeare is weaponized by both sides in the cultural battles that we’ve been through in this country.

BOGAEV: Yeah, weaponized is a good word. I keep coming back to this uncomfortable feeling reading your book that Shakespeare throughout history has served often as a kind of respectable gloss or shield for pretty despicable bigotry or propaganda.


BOGAEV: Propaganda as you say, on both sides.

SHAPIRO: You know, the words like bigot or racist have lost much of their efficacy. Nobody now that I’ve ever met has admitted to being a racist or would admit to it. My way around that problem is simply to say, “Well, what do you think of Othello? What do you think of Shylock? What do you think of a production of Julius Caesar in the park when a Trump lookalike is there and right-wing activists decide to threaten the actors and threaten the directors and threaten the theater goers?”

These become actual questions as I’ve sat in the audience of Oskar Eustis’s brilliant Julius Caesar shortly after Trump’s election, that summer, and watched the cultural divisions in this country play out in the theater, which grew to a level of violence that was quite terrifying.

BOGAEV: Yeah, and now I wanted to talk about that and just remind people who don’t remember the whole controversy.

SHAPIRO: Sure. Sure.

BOGAEV: This happened after the election. So remind us, aside from having Caesar playing in a blonde wig and a long red tie, what else was done to make it clear that this Caesar was Trump?

SHAPIRO: A month after the election, Oskar said he’s going to do Julius Caesar, and wanted to do it with a Trumpian Caesar. The brilliant thing about this production was Oskar Eustis wanted to create a conversation through theater.

One of the ways in which he brought that conversation into the theater was at the very moment when this Trump lookalike is brought to his knees and stabbed to death by the conspirators. At that very moment, individuals are standing up at various places in this 2,000 seat outdoor theater. Two dozen, four dozen, are standing and shouting at the conspirators. How dangerous this was. That this was wrong. And the audience members are looking around thinking, “Oh my God, what is happening?”

What I loved was, I knew that these were 50 extras planted in the audience by Oskar Eustis to create that dialogue. To create a sense of whiplash for a largely liberal audience wrestling with the reality of Donald Trump in our lives for the next four years or potentially, as far as Trump’s concerned, forever. It was extraordinary.

BOGAEV: Right, and saying, “Hey, look at yourselves, examine your own bloodlust or your own prejudices. Your own blindnesses.”

SHAPIRO: “What are you doing in defense of democracy?” It was a great, great whiplash moment. Until the last week or so of the run when Fox News and Breitbart and others caught wind of this production and decided to end it. It got scary. FBI, city police are trying to stop violence.

I’m sitting towards the back and a woman runs out of the crowd after Trump-like Caesar is assassinated and stops the play. The actors didn’t know what to do. They’re milling around, security finally removes her and finally the stage manager said over the mic, “Will the actors please pick it up from ‘Liberty, freedom, tyranny is dead.’” And the audience rose as one and cheered.

It was a thrilling moment in the theater, but on successive nights when more individuals came in to protest and try to break this up, what happened was you had the fake resisters—the 50 or so plants—starting to protest the production, then real protesters trying to break up the production. It became unnerving.

BOGAEV: And you point out that later, you found out that Oskar Eustis and his family and some actors and theater members received death threats. This was serious, but there was no blood on the streets. So it makes me wonder what were your conclusions from this episode?

SHAPIRO: This could have gotten very ugly very quickly. The lesson I learned—two lessons really. One was that the Right played to win and the Left played to engage in a conversation that never happened. The bigger lesson I took away is there has been a contestation over Shakespeare going back to the founding of this nation. Sometimes the Left pulls and wins, sometimes the Right pulls and wins. But when one side lets go and doesn’t want to engage—when the Right sees no value in Shakespeare—that marks a really dangerous moment in American culture.

BOGAEV: But this is happening in New York and maybe we just can’t agree to disagree about politically-sensitive stagings of Shakespeare in the park in New York City. I mean Shakespeare festivals and Shakespeare in the park, they’re still happening all over the country and people are still drinking wine, watching Midsummer Night’s Dream while their kids play.

SHAPIRO: And our government funds community Shakespeare, going back to George Bush who thought this was crucial for overcoming difference in this country. But those programs are under threat. The ways in which individuals are meeting in small communities that don’t have theater or on military bases around the country for the last 20 years or so, that could end tomorrow. I agree that New York is a bubble of sorts culturally, but Shakespeare is really under threat in terms of funding in this country and in terms of hard-fought battles over resources. That is a serious concern going forward.

BOGAEV: Just one more question, what do you personally look for in Shakespeare in this polarized time? What do you turn to him for?

SHAPIRO: You know, I must read eight or ten papers a day to understand the news. But I turn to Shakespeare to explain what that news means. You can’t get from a newspaper a fuller and deeper understanding of the forces that are really, really shaping our lives. For that, I have to go to the theater, watch a play, soak it in, watch the people around me soaking it in, talk with some of them afterwards about it. Try to understand in a way that the newspaper accounts alone cannot explain to me what is going on.

BOGAEV: Well, I have learned so much from reading the book and talking with you and I just also really enjoyed it. Thank you.

SHAPIRO: It was a fun conversation, it was a pleasure speaking.


WITMORE: James Shapiro is the Larry Miller professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, and the Shakespeare scholar in residence at New York’s Public Theater. He has written several award-winning books on Shakespeare including A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599; Contested Will; Who Wrote Shakespeare?; and The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606. His latest book, Shakespeare in a Divided America: What His Plays Tell Us About Our Past and Future, was published by Penguin Press in 2020. He was interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.

Our podcast episode, “O Nation Miserable,” was produced by Richard Paul. Garland Scott is the associate producer. It was edited by Gail Kern Paster. Ben Lauer is the web producer. We had technical help from Andrew Feliciano at Voice Trax West in Studio City, California, and Jim Bittle, Senior Director of Broadcast and Multimedia Technology at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

If you are a fan of Shakespeare Unlimited, please leave us a review on whatever platform you get the podcasts from. That’s a really important way to get out the word about the work we’re doing here, especially to people who don’t know about the podcast already. Thanks so much for your help.

Shakespeare Unlimited comes to you from the Folger Shakespeare Library. Home to the world’s largest Shakespeare collection, the Folger is dedicated to advancing knowledge and the arts. You can find more about the Folger at our website, Thanks for listening. For the Folger Shakespeare Library, I’m Folger Director Michael Witmore.