Just about every year, one rogue scholar or another offers a new, or newly recycled, theory about who “really” wrote Shakespeare’s plays. This seminar opts to circumvent the authorship debates altogether by asking not “Who wrote Shakespeare?” but “Why do we care who wrote Shakespeare?” What are the consequences of abandoning the authorship question altogether? Can one read a Shakespeare play with an historically informed sense of its context but not its author’s intention? Seminar participants will use The Tempest as a test case, precisely because it has invited so many readers to compare Prospero, its anti-hero magician, to Shakespeare the playwright; when Prospero renounces his magic, many hear Shakespeare saying his farewell to the stage. Participants will consider what motivates this analogy and what purpose it serves, as well as the interpretive possibilities that are created if one rejects this analogy altogether. Secondary readings to supplement our conversation will include Roland Barthes’s famous work of literary theory “The Death of the Author,” and excerpts from Stephen Greenblatt’s highly- unauthorized biography Will in the World.
Seminar led by Kasey Evans, Northwestern University