Shakespeare’s bones were entombed in his grave in Stratford-upon-Avon, but his textual remains were given new life in print. His plays and poems continued to circulate, making them available to generations of readers—including a young rural Midwesterner who once checked out Hamlet and a few other plays from the local public library. I’ve spent the years since then trying to understand why I felt compelled to do so, in part by tracing Shakespeare’s lives and afterlives in print.
As an author, Shakespeare was first defined by the early modern book trade, and so attending to the ways in which his works were printed and published, bought and sold, and collected and catalogued in his own time can help us understand how and why he came to inhabit the center of our literary canon. We continue to explore the ways Shakespeare has been read and reshaped over time, sometimes in unexpected places—like the prairies of Iowa.
Starting in the nineteenth century, women’s Shakespeare Clubs were formed, and the surviving records of their activities provide a fascinating glimpse of both literary and local history. The University of Iowa has a long history of teaching Shakespeare, including an early radio course in which lectures and recordings of performances were broadcast over the airwaves. Local book artists are now transforming Shakespeare’s works into timely and thought-provoking projects, and our students are finding new ways to engage with Shakespeare in our digital world. Four hundred years after his death, Shakespeare is alive and well.