Stephen Jay Greenblatt (born November 7, 1943) is an American thinker, Shakespearean, literary historian, and Pulitzer Prize winning author. He is John Cogan University Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University. He is the editor of the The Norton Shakespeare (2015) and a contributor to The Norton Anthology of English Literature.
Greenblatt is regarded by many as one of the founders of New Historicism, a set of critical practices that he often refers to as "cultural poetics"; his works have been influential since the early 1980s when he introduced the term. Greenblatt has written and edited numerous books and articles relevant to new historicism, the study of culture, Renaissance studies and Shakespeare studies and is considered to be an expert in these fields. He is also co-founder of the literary-cultural journal Representations, which often publishes articles by new historicists. His most popular work is Will in the World, a biography of Shakespeare that was on the New York Times Best Seller List for nine weeks. He won the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction in 2012 and the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 2011 for The Swerve: How the World Became Modern.
Life and career
Education and career
Greenblatt was born in Boston and raised in Newton, Massachusetts. After graduating from Newton North High School, he was educated at Yale University (B.A. 1964, M.Phil 1968, Ph.D. 1969) and Pembroke College, Cambridge (B.A. 1966, with the standard promotion to M.A. in 1968). Greenblatt has since taught at the University of California, Berkeley and Harvard University. He was Class of 1972 Professor at Berkeley (becoming a full professor in 1980) and taught there for 28 years before taking a position at Harvard University. He was named John Cogan University Professor of the Humanities in 2000. Greenblatt is considered "a key figure in the shift from literary to cultural poetics and from textual to contextual interpretation in U.S. English departments in the 1980s and 1990s."
Greenblatt is a permanent fellow of the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin. As a visiting professor and lecturer, Greenblatt has taught at such institutions as the École des Hautes Études, the University of Florence, Kyoto University, the University of Oxford and Peking University. He was a resident fellow at the American Academy of Rome, and is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters; he has been president of the Modern Language Association.
Greenblatt self-identifies as an Eastern European Jew, an Ashkenazi, and a Litvak. His observant Jewish grandparents were born in Lithuania; his paternal grandparents were from Kovno and his maternal grandparents were from Vilna. Greenblatt's grandparents immigrated to the United States during the early 1890s in order to escape a Czarist Russification plan to conscript young Jewish men into the Russian army.
Greenblatt was married to Ellen Schmidt from 1969 to 1996; they have two sons (Joshua, an attorney, and Aaron, a doctor). In 1998, he married fellow academic Ramie Targoff, also a Renaissance expert and a professor at Brandeis University, who he has described as his 'soulmate'; they have one son (Harry).
Greenblatt has written extensively on Shakespeare, the Renaissance, culture and new historicism (which he often refers to as "cultural poetics"). Much of his work has been "part of a collective project", such as his work as co-editor of the Berkeley-based literary-cultural journal Representations (which he co-founded in 1983), as editor of publications such as the Norton Anthology of English Literature, and as co-author of books such as Practicing New Historicism (2000), which he wrote with Catherine Gallagher. Greenblatt has also written on such subjects as travelling in Laos and China, story-telling, and miracles.
Greenblatt's collaboration with Charles L. Mee, Cardenio, premiered on May 8, 2008 at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts. While the critical response to Cardenio was mixed, audiences responded quite positively. The American Repertory Theatre has posted audience responses on the organization's blog. Cardenio has been adapted for performance in ten countries, with additional international productions planned.
Greenblatt first used the term “new historicism” in his 1982 introduction to The Power of Forms in the English Renaissance wherein he uses Queen Elizabeth's “bitter reaction to the revival of Shakespeare’s Richard II on the eve of the Essex rebellion" to illustrate the “mutual permeability of the literary and the historical”. New historicism is regarded by many to have had an impact on "every traditional period of English literary history”. Some critics have charged that it is “antiethical to literary and aesthetic value, that it reduces the historical to the literary or the literary to the historical, that it denies human agency and creativity, that it is somehow out to subvert the politics of cultural and critical theory [and] that it is anti-theoretical”. Scholars have observed that “new historicism” is, in fact, "neither new nor historical." Others praise new historicism as “a collection of practices” employed by critics to gain a more comprehensive understanding of literature by considering it in historical context while treating history itself as “historically contingent on the present in which [it is] constructed”.
As stated by Shakespeare scholar Jonathan Bate, the approach of new historicism has been "the most influential strand of criticism over the last 25 years, with its view that literary creations are cultural formations shaped by 'the circulation of social energy'." When told that several American job advertisements were requesting responses from experts in new historicism, he remembered thinking: "'You've got to be kidding. You know it was just something we made up!' I began to see there were institutional consequences to what seemed like a not particularly deeply thought-out term."
He has also said that “My deep, ongoing interest is in the relation between literature and history, the process through which certain remarkable works of art are at once embedded in a highly specific life-world and seem to pull free of that life-world. I am constantly struck by the strangeness of reading works that seem addressed, personally and intimately, to me, and yet were written by people who crumbled to dust long ago".
Greenblatt's works on new historicism and “cultural poetics” include Practicing New Historicism (2000) (with Catherine Gallagher), in which Greenblatt discusses how “the anecdote… appears as the ‘touch of the real’” andTowards a Poetics of Culture (1987), in which Greenblatt asserts that the question of “how art and society are interrelated,” as posed by Jean-François Lyotard and Fredric Jameson, “cannot be answered by appealing to a single theoretical stance”. Renaissance Self-Fashioning and the Introduction to the Norton Shakespeare are regarded as good examples of Greenblatt's application of new historicist practices.
Shakespeare and Renaissance studies
"I believe that nothing comes of nothing, even in Shakespeare. I wanted to know where he got the matter he was working with and what he did with that matter".
Greenblatt states in "King Lear and Harsnett's 'Double-Fiction'" that "Shakespeare's self-consciousness is in significant ways bound up with the institutions and the symbology of power it anatomizes". His work on Shakespeare has addressed such topics as ghosts, purgatory, anxiety, exorcists and revenge. He is also a general editor of the Norton Shakespeare.
Greenblatt's new historicism opposes the ways in which new criticism consigns texts "to an autonomous aesthetic realm that [dissociates] Renaissance writing from other forms of cultural production” and the historicist notion that Renaissance texts mirror "a coherent world-view that was held by a whole population,” asserting instead “that critics who [wish] to understand sixteenth- and seventeenth-century writing must delineate the ways the texts they [study] were linked to the network of institutions, practices, and beliefs that constituted Renaissance culture in its entirety”. Greenblatt’s work in Renaissance studies includes Renaissance Self-Fashioning (1980), which “had a transformative impact on Renaissance studies”.
Norton Anthology of English Literature
Greenblatt joined M. H. Abrams as general editor of the Norton Anthology of English Literature published by W.W. Norton during the 1990s. He is also the co-editor of the anthology's section on Renaissance literature and the general editor of the Norton Shakespeare, “currently his most influential piece of public pedagogy."
- 1964-66: Fulbright scholarship
- 1975: Guggenheim fellowship
- 1983: Guggenheim fellowship
- 1989: James Russell Lowell Prize of the Modern Language Association (Shakespearean Negotiations)
- 2002: Honorary D.Litt., Queen Mary College, University of London
- 2002: Erasmus Institute Prize
- 2002: Mellon Distinguished Humanist Award
- 2005: William Shakespeare Award for Classical Theatre, The Shakespeare Theatre, Washington, D.C.
- 2006: Honorary degree, University of Bucharest, Romania
- 2010: Wilbur Cross Medal, Yale University
- 2011: National Book Award for Nonfiction, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern
- 2011: James Russell Lowell Prize of the Modern Language Association, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern
- 2012: Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern
- 2016 Holberg Prize for outstanding scholars for work in the arts, humanities, social sciences, law or theology
- Clarendon Lectures, Oxford University (1988)
- Carpenter Lectures, University of Chicago (1988)
- Adorno Lectures, Goethe University Frankfurt (2006)
- Campbell Lectures, Rice University (2008)
- Sigmund H Danziger Jr Lecture, University of Chicago (2015)
- Greenblatt, Stephen (1965). Three Modern Satirists: Waugh, Orwell, and Huxley. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-00508-0.
- Greenblatt, Stephen (1973). Sir Walter Ralegh: The Renaissance Man and His Roles. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-01634-5.
- Greenblatt, Stephen (2005) . Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-30659-9.
- Greenblatt, Stephen (1989). Shakespearean Negotiations: The Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance England. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-06160-6.
- Greenblatt, Stephen (2007) . Learning to Curse: Essays in Early Modern Culture. London: Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-415-77160-3.
- Greenblatt, Stephen (1992). Marvelous Possessions: The Wonder of the New World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-30652-0.
- Stephen Greenblatt, ed. (1992). Redrawing the Boundaries: The Transformation of English and American Literary Studies. New York: Modern Language Association of America. ISBN 978-0-87352-396-7.
- Greenblatt, Stephen; Cohen, Walter; Howard, Jean; Maus, Katharine Eisaman, eds. (2008) . The Norton Shakespeare (2nd ed.). New York: W. W. Norton. ISBN 978-0-393-92991-1.
- Greenblatt, Stephen; Gallagher, Catherine (2001). Practicing New Historicism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-27935-0.
- Greenblatt, Stephen (2002). Hamlet in Purgatory. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-10257-3.
- Greenblatt, Stephen (2005). Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare. New York: W. W. Norton. ISBN 978-0-393-32737-3.
- Greenblatt, Stephen (2005). The Greenblatt Reader. Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 978-1-4051-1566-7.
- Greenblatt, Stephen (2010). Shakespeare's Freedom. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-30667-4.
- Greenblatt, Stephen (2011). The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. New York: W. W. Norton. ISBN 978-0-393-06447-6.