Stephen Greenblatt – ‘Age is Unnecessary’: Shakespeare and the War between Old and Young

6.30pm - 8.00pm,10 August 2017
Performance Hall, Yale-NUS

The subject of Professor Greenblatt’s lecture is on extreme old age, a problem relatively rare in the past but increasingly familiar in our world. He will range from the Bible’s Adam and Eve story and the apocryphal Vita Adae et Evae to contemporary evolutionary biology.  His central focus will be on King Lear, where Shakespeare focuses his astonishing powers of attention on the aspect of senescence that is least relevant to the biological processes of life history: that is, to the consciousness of an old person fitfully aware that his mental as well as physical powers are waning and anxious about the support he will receive from his offspring as they are entering their own reproductive lives. This consciousness has no claim on the attention either of the Biblical narrator of the evolutionary biologist; it is, like the non-reproductive bodies of the very old, a kind of meaningless leftover. But for Shakespeare – and for literature – the leftover is the thing itself.

A Q&A session will follow the address.


Stephen Greenblatt is John Cogan Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University and winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for his book The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. He is an American scholar of Shakespeare and literary historian widely known as a founder of New Historicism, a literary theory whose goal is to understand intellectual history through literature.

His honors include the MLA’s James Russell Lowell Prize, for Shakespearean Negotiations: The Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance England, the Distinguished Humanist Award from the Mellon Foundation, and the Distinguished Teaching Award from the University of California, Berkeley. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society. Professor Greenblatt received his BA and PhD from Yale University and MA from Pembroke College, Cambridge.

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