Category Archives: Shakespeare & his world

two degrees of Christopher Marlowe

In The Reckoning (1994), Charles Nicholl carefully investigated the 1593 murder of Christopher Marlowe, arguing that it resulted from a struggle between the rival spy networks of Walter Raleigh and Robert Devereux (the 2nd Earl of Essex). It’s a compelling … Continue reading

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“a different Shakespeare from the one I love”

“Kids today don’t appreciate Shakespeare.” That is a tired, perennial complaint. It is not the point that the eminent Shakespearean Stephen Greenblatt makes in “Teaching a Different Shakespeare From the One I Love.” In fact, he admires the way his … Continue reading

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was Montaigne a relativist?

The most interestingly radical form of cultural relativism has three elements, I think: People’s norms, habits, values, and ways of thinking are pervasively diverse. The variation is not so much among individuals as among large groups; or (to put it … Continue reading

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is science republican (with a little r)?

First, a puzzle about Sir Francis Bacon, one of the founders of science as we know it. He begins his¬†Advancement of Learning (1605): To the King. … Wherefore, representing your Majesty many times unto my mind, and beholding you … … Continue reading

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the public purposes of the humanities (a brief history)

Shrinking enrollments and subsidies lend the humanities an air of crisis. Several states are considering cutting public support for majors that do not lead directly to jobs. North Carolina governor Pat McCrory discussed that idea on the radio with former … Continue reading

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man the unwedgeable and gnarled oak (thoughts on Measure for Measure)

Duke: Heaven doth with us as we with torches do, Not light them for themselves; for if our virtues Did not go forth of us, ’twere all alike As if we had them not. … (Act. 1 Sc. 1) Lucio: … Continue reading

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Ian McKellen’s Now is the winter of our discontent

I admire unexpected, imaginative stagings of Shakespeare that are not stunts but that reveal meanings in the original text. There are many such moments in Ian McKellen’s film version of Richard III (1995). He has cut and edited Shakespeare’s text … Continue reading

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Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall

Wolf Hall was my favorite book of 2010. It is a miraculously sympathetic story about Thomas Cromwell, the man most famous for engineering Henry VIII’s divorce, dissolving the English monasteries, making Henry head of the English church, passing legislation requiring … Continue reading

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reason and power in Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar is a play about power. The ultimate source of power is popular will–and not only in an official republic like Rome. Even a monstrous dictator like Stalin cannot physically kill millions of his own people; he must harness … Continue reading

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Tolstoy, Shakespeare, Orwell

Tolstoy hated Shakespeare and thought that other people’s admiration for him was “a great evil, as is every untruth.” Orwell’s response, “Lear, Tolstoy and the Fool,” is a rich and wise essay that probably expresses more of what I believe … Continue reading

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