Stephen Greenblatt is Cogan University Professor of the Humanities at Harvard. His essay in this issue is drawn from an afterword to a new edition of his book Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare, which will be published in April to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.

 (April 2016)


How Shakespeare Lives Now

John Martin: Macbeth, circa 1820
We speak of Shakespeare’s works as if they were stable reflections of his original intentions, but they continue to circulate precisely because they are so amenable to metamorphosis. They have left his world, passed into ours, and become part of us. And when we in turn have vanished, they will continue to exist, tinged perhaps in small ways by our own lives and fates, and will become part of others whom he could not have foreseen and whom we can barely imagine.

The Jewish Poet of Love

Yehuda Amichai

The Poetry of Yehuda Amichai

edited by Robert Alter
First, a disclosure: though I grew up in a ritually observant Jewish household and went to religious school three times a week for six years, my command of Hebrew is close to nonexistent. True, if I happened to run into an Oriental potentate, I could probably flatter and cajole him …

Shakespeare in Tehran

Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque in Isfahan, the last stop on Stephen Greenblatt’s trip to Iran
For more than four centuries now he has served as a crucial link across the boundaries that divide cultures, ideologies, religions, nations, and all the other ways in which humans define and demarcate their identities. The differences, of course, remain—Shakespeare cannot simply erase them—and yet he offers the opportunity for what he called “atonement.” He used the word in the special sense, no longer current, of “at-one-ment,” a bringing together in shared dialogue of those who have been for too long opposed and apart.

The Naughty Pleasures of Boccaccio

A Flemish miniature from a French translation of Boccaccio’s Decameron, circa 1430. The fourth day of the ­Decameron includes the story of Ghismunda, the daughter of  Prince Tancredi of Salerno. Ghismunda fell in love with Guiscardo, a virtuous but humble valet in Tancredi’s court, and the two began meeting secretly in her bedroom. When ­Tancredi found them together (here he is shown spying from the chimney), he had Guiscardo killed and his heart sent to Ghismunda in a golden chalice. Realizing what her father had done, she poured poison into the cup, drank the concoction, and died.

The Decameron

by Giovanni Boccaccio, translated from the Italian and with an introduction by Wayne A. Rebhorn
What was he supposed to do? His father, who held a position in an important Florentine banking firm, expected him, perfectly reasonably, to follow in his footsteps. But Giovanni Boccaccio, who was born in or near the Tuscan town of Certaldo in 1313, dreamed of being a poet. When he …


Rome: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Game

An American archaeologist friend here in Rome, where I’m spending my sabbatical, was working for a time in Salerno, in the south of Italy, and found himself annoyed by the thugs who lounged near the main square and approached him, when he intended to park there, offering, for a small fee, to “protect” the car from anyone who might wish to damage it. It was bad enough when he thought it was only he, a foreigner, who was treated to this shake-down, but, as he idly watched one day, my friend realized that the louts were equal-opportunity predators: they made the same offer to local businessmen, little old ladies, factory workers. And worse still, they went about their business within sight of the uniformed carabinieri who stood chatting with each other in front of the police station. My friend expressed his outrage to a Salernitano acquaintance: the nuisance was not an unfamiliar one in America, he complained, but it seemed unaccountable to have it take place under the gaze of the authorities. Look, the acquaintance said to him, with the resignation of a native, everyone has to make a living.

Berlusconi: A Reversal of Direction

I grew up in Boston in the 1950s, so I immediately grasped the basic idea of Roman street signs: they are there not to inform you ahead of time where you might want to turn but rather to confirm where you have already turned, once the fateful decision has been made. And at least Romans reliably tell you the name of the street or highway to which you have now committed yourself.


‘Much Ado About Nothing’

Stephen Greenblatt writes of Joss Whedon’s take, “We are rather on familiar ground, and, as if to conjure up the ordinary accoutrements of modern American upper-middle-class life, the camera dwells lovingly on the kitchen counter.”