Sam Leith

Life at the Globe | 6 June 2019

Life at the Globe | 6 June 2019
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IN ASSOCIATION WITH THE PRINCIPAL PARTNERS OF SHAKESPEARE’S GLOBE’S 2019 SUMMER SEASON

This column concludes my brief series about Shakespeare and the Globe, linked to the summer season of history plays — from Richard II to Henry V — sponsored by Merian. It’s been a pleasure to write. And one of the special pleasures it has offered is the chance to explore what Oxford’s Professor of Shakespeare Studies, Emma Smith, identifies in her book This Is Shakespeare as the Stratford man’s outstanding quality: what she calls his ‘gappiness’. That is what academics more usually call indeterminacy. (I can see why she prefers ‘gappiness’.)

What she means by that is that the plays, rather than arguing a series of political, moral or personal positions, instead leave great gaps into which their audiences can project meaning. It’s true of all literary writing, but especially true of Shakespeare. He’s king of the implied question mark. It’s what Keats (in special reference to Shakespeare) called ‘negative capability’. And it’s why in even the few weeks I’ve been writing these little squibs we’ve seen a Shakespeare who can blow the trumpet for a just war and show its awful costs; who can map out the honourable path to kingship and bring its dishonourable flipside to compelling human life; who can sound like an ardent Brexiteer and a thoroughgoing European.

I’d like to commend to you Emma’s conversation with me on our books podcast (www.spectator.co.uk/emmasmith). One of the things I asked her about was something that has long bothered me: isn’t it anti--intellectual that in all our curricula, and indeed in our national life, we tend to regard Shakespeare not as one writer among many, but as an isolated monument? Even in undergraduate courses, there’s Shakespeare and then there’s the rest of literature. It’s weird. But you don’t need to subscribe to Harold Bloom’s slightly batty notion that Shakespeare ‘invented’ modern humanity to see him as a bit special. It is my admittedly anti-intellectual view — and I hope it is yours — that Shakespeare really was just quite a lot better than everybody else.

IN ASSOCIATION WITH THE PRINCIPAL PARTNERS OF SHAKESPEARE’S GLOBE’S 2019 SUMMER SEASON

Written bySam Leith

Sam Leith is an English author, journalist and literary editor of The Spectator.

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