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.
“In this short collection of essays, Stephen Greenblatt’s analysis of both Shakespeare and the Renaissance is informative and often original. He argues that Shakespeare’s genius lay in embracing and subverting the norms of his age. . . . Yet, the book’s real lesson is Shakespeare’s awareness of the human condition in all its complexity.”
“Stephen Greenblatt is one of America’s most elegant and inventive literary critics. He writes with panache as he spins intriguing yarns from surprising materials. He has a gift as a reader of Shakespeare for noticing details that others have tended to overlook and using them as a prism to refract the plays in new ways.”
“It is good, at a time when there is danger of seeing Shakespeare too exclusively as an entertainer, to find an acknowledgement of the intellectual powers that pervade his work, and Greenblatt brings his formidable critical expertise to bear on the writings in this deeply thoughtful . . . study.”
Times Literary Supplement
Table of Contents
1 :: Absolute Limits
2 :: Shakespearean Beauty Marks
3 :: The Limits of Hatred
4 :: Shakespeare and the Ethics of Authority
5 :: Shakespearean Autonomy