Stephen Greenblatt

Stephen Greenblatt is a literary critic, theorist and scholar. He has written and edited numerous books and articles relevant to new historic-ism, the study of culture, Renaissance studies and Shakespeare studies and is considered to be an expert in these fields. His most popular work is Will in the World, a biography of Shakespeare that was on the New York Times bestseller list for nine weeks. He is also co-founder of the literary-cultural journal Representations. His most recent work is The Swerve, a study of the origins of the Renaissance.
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Stephen Greenblatt
Marvelous Possessions is a study of the ways in which Europeans of the late Middle Ages and the early modern period represented non-European peoples and took possession of their lands, in particular the New World.

In a series of innovative readings of travel narratives, judicial documents, and official reports, Stephen Greenblatt shows that the experience of the marvelous, central to both art and philosophy, was cunningly yoked by Columbus and others to the service of colonial appropriation. He argues that the traditional symbolic actions and legal rituals through which European sovereignty was asserted were strained to the breaking point by the unprecedented nature of the discovery of the New World. But the book also shows that the experience of the marvelous is not necessarily an agent of empire: in writers as different as Herodotus, Jean de Léry, and Montaigne—and notably in Mandeville's Travels, the most popular travel book of the Middle Ages—wonder is a sign of a remarkably tolerant recognition of cultural difference.

Marvelous Possession is not only a collection of the odd and exotic through which Stephen Greenblatt powerfully conveys a sense of the marvelous, but also a highly original extension of his thinking on a subject that has occupied him throughout his career. The book reaches back to the ancient Greeks and forward to the present to ask how it is possible, in a time of disorientation, hatred of the other, and possessiveness, to keep the capacity for wonder from being poisoned?

"A marvellous book. It is also a compelling and a powerful one. Nothing so original has ever been written on European responses to 'The wonder of the New World.'"—Anthony Pagden, Times Literary Supplement

"By far the most intellectually gripping and penetrating discussion of the relationship between intruders and natives is provided by Stephen Greenblatt's Marvelous Possessions."—Simon Schama, The New Republic

"For the most engaging and illuminating perspective of all, read Marvelous Possessions."—Laura Shapiro, Newsweek
Stephen Greenblatt
In Hamlet in Purgatory, renowned literary scholar Stephen Greenblatt delves into his longtime fascination with the ghost of Hamlet's father, and his daring and ultimately gratifying journey takes him through surprising intellectual territory. It yields an extraordinary account of the rise and fall of Purgatory as both a belief and a lucrative institution--as well as a capacious new reading of the power of Hamlet.

In the mid-sixteenth century, English authorities abruptly changed the relationship between the living and dead. Declaring that Purgatory was a false "poem," they abolished the institutions and banned the practices that Christians relied on to ease the passage to Heaven for themselves and their dead loved ones. Greenblatt explores the fantastic adventure narratives, ghost stories, pilgrimages, and imagery by which a belief in a grisly "prison house of souls" had been shaped and reinforced in the Middle Ages. He probes the psychological benefits as well as the high costs of this belief and of its demolition.

With the doctrine of Purgatory and the elaborate practices that grew up around it, the church had provided a powerful method of negotiating with the dead. The Protestant attack on Purgatory destroyed this method for most people in England, but it did not eradicate the longings and fears that Catholic doctrine had for centuries focused and exploited. In his strikingly original interpretation, Greenblatt argues that the human desires to commune with, assist, and be rid of the dead were transformed by Shakespeare--consummate conjurer that he was--into the substance of several of his plays, above all the weirdly powerful Hamlet. Thus, the space of Purgatory became the stage haunted by literature's most famous ghost.

This book constitutes an extraordinary feat that could have been accomplished by only Stephen Greenblatt. It is at once a deeply satisfying reading of medieval religion, an innovative interpretation of the apparitions that trouble Shakespeare's tragic heroes, and an exploration of how a culture can be inhabited by its own spectral leftovers.

This expanded Princeton Classics edition includes a new preface by the author.

Stephen Greenblatt
Shakespeare lived in a world of absolutes—of claims for the absolute authority of scripture, monarch, and God, and the authority of fathers over wives and children, the old over the young, and the gentle over the baseborn. With the elegance and verve for which he is well known, Stephen Greenblatt, author of the best-selling Will in the World, shows that Shakespeare was strikingly averse to such absolutes and constantly probed the possibility of freedom from them. Again and again, Shakespeare confounds the designs and pretensions of kings, generals, and churchmen. His aversion to absolutes even leads him to probe the exalted and seemingly limitless passions of his lovers.

Greenblatt explores this rich theme by addressing four of Shakespeare’s preoccupations across all the genres in which he worked. He first considers the idea of beauty in Shakespeare’s works, specifically his challenge to the cult of featureless perfection and his interest in distinguishing marks. He then turns to Shakespeare’s interest in murderous hatred, most famously embodied in Shylock but seen also in the character Bernardine in Measure for Measure. Next Greenblatt considers the idea of Shakespearean authority—that is, Shakespeare’s deep sense of the ethical ambiguity of power, including his own. Ultimately, Greenblatt takes up Shakespearean autonomy, in particular the freedom of artists, guided by distinctive forms of perception, to live by their own laws and to claim that their creations are singularly unconstrained.

A book that could only have been written by Stephen Greenblatt, Shakespeare’s Freedom is a wholly original and eloquent meditation by the most acclaimed and influential Shakespearean of our time.
Stephen Greenblatt
Stephen Greenblatt—Pulitzer Prize– and National Book Award–winning author of The Swerve and Will in the World—investigates the life of one of humankind’s greatest stories.

Bolder, even, than the ambitious books for which Stephen Greenblatt is already renowned, The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve explores the enduring story of humanity’s first parents. Comprising only a few ancient verses, the story of Adam and Eve has served as a mirror in which we seem to glimpse the whole, long history of our fears and desires, as both a hymn to human responsibility and a dark fable about human wretchedness.

Tracking the tale into the deep past, Greenblatt uncovers the tremendous theological, artistic, and cultural investment over centuries that made these fictional figures so profoundly resonant in the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim worlds and, finally, so very “real” to millions of people even in the present. With the uncanny brilliance he previously brought to his depictions of William Shakespeare and Poggio Bracciolini (the humanist monk who is the protagonist of The Swerve), Greenblatt explores the intensely personal engagement of Augustine, Dürer, and Milton in this mammoth project of collective creation, while he also limns the diversity of the story’s offspring: rich allegory, vicious misogyny, deep moral insight, and some of the greatest triumphs of art and literature.

The biblical origin story, Greenblatt argues, is a model for what the humanities still have to offer: not the scientific nature of things, but rather a deep encounter with problems that have gripped our species for as long as we can recall and that continue to fascinate and trouble us today.

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