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Splenditello

Stephen Greenblatt, 19 June 1986

Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy 
by Judith Brown.
Oxford, 214 pp., £12.50, January 1986, 0 19 503675 1
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... A few months ago, in California, I had a message that a New York Times reporter had telephoned. I conjured up a half-dozen possible reasons for the call, all of them unabashedly narcissistic, only to find, when I finally reached her, that the reporter wanted to know what I thought of a scholarly book that had just been published. Such a question from the press is highly unusual in the United States: American newspapers rarely interest themselves in scholarship, and our reporters, like our politicians, have failed to develop a public discourse that can accommodate ideas of a complexity greater than that conveyed in advertising jingles ...

In Memory of Michael Rogin

Stephen Greenblatt, 3 January 2002

... After the first death,’ Dylan Thomas wrote, ‘there is no other.’ I know what he is getting at, I suppose, but it isn’t true, at least not for me. I have had other deaths, but the death last month of my friend Michael Rogin was a shock. It’s not that we had, in recent years, spent much time together. I left Berkeley, where we taught together on the faculty of the University of California, in the mid-1990s, and almost immediately lost touch with most of my network of friends ...

The Inevitable Pit

Stephen Greenblatt: Isn’t that a Jewish name?, 21 September 2000

... dubious opinions about race relations and strong regional enthusiasms. (My father’s cousin, Mike Greenblatt, wrote a well-known football song: ‘I’m a rambling wreck from Georgia Tech, and a hell of an engineer.’) Another relation ventured out west, with his wife and two small children, to try his hand as a pedlar in Wyoming. This was the occasion of ...

That’s America

Stephen Greenblatt, 29 September 1988

‘Ronald Reagan’, the Movie, and Other Episodes in Political Demonology 
by Michael Rogin.
California, 366 pp., £19.95, April 1987, 0 520 05937 9
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... The 15th-century classic of paranoid witch-hunting, Kramer and Sprenger’s Malleus Maleficarum, provides a convenient gloss on the word ‘glamour’. Witches, the Dominican inquisitors tell us, can rob a man of his penis or at least make him think that he has been robbed. The victim wakes up in the morning, looks down and sees nothing there – or rather he sees, where his penis should be, what is called a ‘glamour ...

Loitering in the Piazza

Stephen Greenblatt, 27 October 1988

Inheriting Power: The Story of an Exorcist 
by Giovanni Levi, translated by Lydia Cochrane.
Chicago, 209 pp., £21.50, June 1988, 0 226 47417 8
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... Giovanni Levi’s Inheriting Power bears a generic resemblance to those recent historical studies that illuminate the lives of European peasants by isolating and reconstructing a single resonant story. The best of these microhistories – Carlo Ginzburg’s The Cheese and the Worms and Natalie Zemon Davis’s The Return of Martin Guerre – succeed in making their stories what Kenneth Burke calls ‘representative anecdotes’, reflections of reality that are inevitably selections of reality ...

Fathomless Strangeness of the Ordinary

Stephen Greenblatt: Disenchantment, 7 January 1999

Wonders and the Order of Nature, 1150-1750 
by Lorraine Daston and Katharine Park.
Zone, 511 pp., £19.95, June 1998, 0 942299 90 6
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... The closest analogues in the West to Borges’s ‘Chinese encyclopedia’, if not its direct source, are the Wunderkammern, strange collections in cabinets that signalled the prestige of many princes and prelates and served as Early Modern tourist attractions. In Borges’s description of the encyclopedia – perhaps the most famous passage in his work, and famously celebrated by Michel Foucault in The Order of Things – we are told that animals are classified as follows: ‘(a) belonging to the Emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (1) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies ...

Wild Bill

Stephen Greenblatt, 20 October 1994

Essays on Renaissance Literature. Vol. II 
by William Empson, edited by John Haffenden.
Cambridge, 292 pp., £35, May 1994, 0 521 44044 0
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... It would be easy for a reader who was encountering Empson for the first time to wonder what on earth this critical performance was about and why these ragged relics – the second part of a two-volume edition of his miscellaneous writings on Renaissance literature – were being presented with such thoughtfulness and scrupulous care. About half of the present volume’s contents have been previously published, from a 1956 essay on The Spanish Tragedy, through essays from the Sixties on Volpone and The Alchemist, to a pair of reviews ...

Where little Fyodor played

Stephen Greenblatt, 24 January 1991

... The small dacha in Peredelkino outside Moscow where Boris Pasternak lived for several years and where in 1960 he died is now a museum. It was there that the Writer’s Union representative took us – a group of jet-lagged American journal editors – on the first afternoon of our recent visit. The books and the furniture and the grand piano and the drawings by his father Leonid, all of which had been carted off after Pasternak’s death, when the dacha was unceremoniously assigned to another writer, have been brought back, and the poet who had been expelled by the Writer’s Union in the wake of the publication of Doctor Zhivago, is now given culture’s highest tribute – museumification ...

Hail to the Chief

Frank Kermode, 10 January 1991

Learning to Curse: Essays in Early Modern Culture 
by Stephen Greenblatt.
Routledge, 188 pp., £25, January 1991, 0 415 90173 1
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... As befits an undisputed chef d’école, Stephen Greenblatt includes in this latest collection an account of his own ‘intellectual trajectory’, which features a decisive revulsion from his teachers at Yale, a submission to ‘the intellectual power and moral authority’ of Raymond Williams at Cambridge, and the almost inadvertent invention of the New Historicism, the école in question ...
Shakespearean Negotiations: The Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance England 
by Stephen Greenblatt.
Oxford, 205 pp., £22.50, April 1988, 0 19 812980 7
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Representing the English Renaissance 
edited by Stephen Greenblatt.
California, 372 pp., $42, February 1988, 0 520 06129 2
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... problem is not so much to explain the rise of the so-called ‘New Historicism’ associated with Stephen Greenblatt and his friends and followers, as to account for the hostile reactions to it. Why should it be considered subversive to replace literary texts in their historical contexts? Is the movement dangerous because it is historicist or because it ...

Point of Wonder

A.D. Nuttall, 5 December 1991

Marvellous Possessions: The Wonder of the New World 
by Stephen Greenblatt.
Oxford, 202 pp., £22.50, September 1991, 0 19 812382 5
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... converse conquest of discourse is deliciously Greenblattian. But in Marvellous PossessionsStephen Greenblatt is dealing with the Spanish conquest of the New World. This time the conqueror’s assurance of superiority is brutally uniform: a superiority of arms, together with a superiority of spirit, consisting in the possession of the True ...

Touches of the Real

David Simpson: Stephen Greenblatt, 24 May 2001

Practising New Historicism 
by Catherine Gallagher and Stephen Greenblatt.
Chicago, 249 pp., £17.50, June 2000, 0 226 27934 0
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... long enough about feminism, deconstruction and literary theory. The term may have been coined by Stephen Greenblatt in an essay of 1982; if so it was already a restrike, minted from a prototype used by Wesley Morris in 1972 or perhaps by Roy Harvey Pearce in 1958. Greenblatt himself came to prefer the term ‘cultural ...

Remember Me

John Bossy: Hamlet, 24 May 2001

Hamlet in Purgatory 
by Stephen Greenblatt.
Princeton, 322 pp., £19.95, May 2001, 0 691 05873 3
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... Stephen Greenblatt has moved on, or back, and not only from Berkeley to Harvard. He ended Renaissance Self-Fashioning (1980) with an account of Othello similar in shape to his present account of Hamlet, but pretty unconvincing; Hamlet in Purgatory hits the nail resonantly on the head. As is the way with new historicist interpretation, both expositions proceed by relating a crux in the play to a prominent item in the surrounding or preceding non-literary culture; in these cases, theological and religious culture ...

Jours de Fête

Mark Thornton Burnett, 9 January 1992

Shakespeare’s Festive World: Elizabethan Seasonal Entertainment and the Professional Stage 
by François Laroque, translated by Janet Lloyd.
Cambridge, 423 pp., £45, September 1991, 0 521 37549 5
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... quarto variants in Shakespeare, consideration of New Historicist interpretations of the period by Stephen Greenblatt, Louis Montrose, Steven Mullancy and Peter Stallybrass (among others) and a chapter on Othello. This is less a translation than a new study in its own right. One of the great virtues of Shakespeare’s Festive World is the ...

Who wouldn’t buy it?

Colin Burrow: Speculating about Shakespeare, 20 January 2005

Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare 
by Stephen Greenblatt.
Cape, 430 pp., £20, October 2004, 9780224062763
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... As I was reading Stephen Greenblatt’s biography of Shakespeare on the train there was a woman sitting near me doing a deal on the phone. She was getting agitated. ‘But I have to transfer the money to Mr Shakespeare himself,’ she said. ‘No … Listen, I really need to speak to Mr Shakespeare. Can you put me through? Hello? … Hello?’ Then the line went dead ...

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