Marjorie Garber takes the stage to speak to the relevance of Shakespeare to modern culture. Her latest book, she says, is a deeply personal book, and she connects his plays to contemporary thought in the past 150 years or so in rapid fire.
Fortunately, there will not be an exam following this lecture.
Great works are never static, and the spinoffs many. "Shakespeare makes modern culture, and modern culture makes Shakespeare." It's this crossing between the two halves that sums up for her the whole of her comments today.
His plays are not timeless, but "are always adapted to the current moment and its concerns."
In one of many, many specific examples that follow, she points out that Macbeth was Abraham Lincoln's favorite play; it was the work he read on his entrance, figuratively and literally, into Washington, the place that would eventually take his life.
She notes broadly that theatre-about-theatre has extends beyond the film of Rosencrantz and Gildenstern, for example. This meta-narrative is correlative to a pervasive modern feeling by many that we are stuck in a play from which there is no exit.
Using the character of Shylock and many others, she illustrates how we all too often read back into Shakespeare what we would have him say. The retelling of the tragedies, for example, are politically advantageous, not historically accurate.
"We have a cultural compulsion to repeat" what captures the moment.
Leadership institutes and business books now use his plays as veritable case studies, to which she responds rhetorically, "how can something be simultaneously a case study and a singular example?"
She also recounts how the young schoolboy Shakespeare profited from a moment in English history that was rediscovering classic texts, and he could, thanks to the press, get his hands on those texts - as well as the Bible - for reading.
It's perhaps appropriate then that in responding to a question about the authorship question, she does not dwell on who else might have been the author, but on the intense fascination with question itself. But no matter, she concludes. It is the plays themselves that are ultimately the thing. They are not injured.