7 November — It’s the birthday of critic and writer Stephen Greenblatt, (books by this author) born in Boston (1943). As a kid, he read so much that his mom would tell him to get his nose out of a book and go watch some TV. But he just kept reading, and went on to write popular books of literary criticism. One of his most successful books is Will in the World (2004), a biography of William Shakespeare, which was a New York Times best-seller.
He said, “The first and perhaps the most important requirement for a successful writing performance — and writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig — is to understand the nature of the occasion.” (Source: The Writer’s Almanac)
I’ve enjoyed two of Greenblatt’s books on Shakespeare: Will in the World and Hamlet in Purgatory. However, “enjoyed” might not be the best word. So, let’s substitute the words “been provoked by” for “enjoyed.” Yes, Greenblatt has provoked me into more critically thinking about and better understanding Shakespeare’s plays, especially the complicated but essential historical, political, and cultural contexts. And — by the way — Shakespeare really was a master of the aria and jog, and each of his plays ought to be read with a clear understanding of the contexts; as his fervent hopes for fortune and even staying alive depended upon it, Shakespeare very well understood the nature of each occasion. Now, as I am willing to be provoked again by Greenblatt, I think I’ll revisit Will in the World, and then I’ll read a few of Shakespeare’s plays. Stay tuned for future postings based on my reading.