Jonathan Bate

Shakespeare’s crowning glory

In the 18th century, as Shakespeare began to take on classic status, editors began to notice differences between the texts of the plays preserved by his fellow actors in the posthumously published First Folio of his Comedies, Histories & Tragedies and those that had been published in the playwright’s lifetime in the cheap pocket editions,

The twin certainties of baptism and burial

Can there possibly be anything new to say about the old subject of Shakespeare’s sources? As early as the 18th century, scholars realised that he made up very few of his own plots. Whether he was bringing to life Plutarch’s biographies of the noble Romans or rescripting a hoary old drama from the existing repertoire

Catholic beauty

In 1992 the Roman Catholic historian Eamon Duffy of Magdalene College, Cambridge published a large book called The Stripping of the Altars. Deploying a wealth of evidence, Duffy argued that the English men and women of the 16th century, especially in the provinces, did not really want to be ‘reformed’. They liked their old Catholic

The play’s the thing

History, geography, politics, news, entertainment: the world is at our fingertips, staged before our eyes through the click of a mouse. Before the age of the internet was that of television, and radio before that. In the 19th century, you went for your weekly fix of politics, news, opinion and enlightenment to papers such as

Fatal impact theory 

As schools are for education, so universities are for higher education. In a civilised society, children should leave school literate, numerate and with some knowledge of science, history and culture. But society also needs an elite educated to a higher level. Universities are for the preparation of the next generation of doctors, United Nations interpreters,

The art of enchantment

Edward Burne-Jones was the archetypal literary-minded Victorian. Born in 1833, the son of a Birmingham picture-framer and gilder, he developed a taste for the Romantic poets while at school. Then, whilst an undergraduate at Oxford, he found a lifelong friend in William Morris. The university was supposed to be their route towards holy orders, but

Homage to Gloriana

The period between the defeat of the Spanish fleet in 1588 and the death of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603 was among the most dramatic in English history. It was a time of Irish ‘troubles’, of war and plague, faction and rebellion, global exploration and religious fanaticism. These 15 years also witnessed the dazzling career

By divers hands

Contrary to the Romantic image of him as a solitary scribbler in a garret, William Shakespeare was a deeply collaborative artist. He wrote his plays for a particular theatre company, tailoring each part to the actor he knew would perform it. He began his career patching up old plays in the existing repertoire and ended

Of cabbages and kings

Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition, by Robert Pogue Harrison When I was a student, my Cambridge supervisor said, in the Olympian tone characteristic of his kind, that the only living literary critics for whom he would sell his shirt were William Empson and G. Wilson Knight. Having spent the subsequent 30 years in

Mad about the Bard

At school there was a group of us who thought that Samuel Beckett was the coolest person on the planet. What could be more thrilling than the apocalyptic minimalism of a play featuring two people who lived in dustbins? We found validation for our passion when a teacher drew our attention to the Polish critic

The cloak-and-dagger poet

It is almost impossible to write a good biography of Shakespeare. His plays contain at once too much and too little for the biographer; his extraordinary impersonality means that he hardly ever reveals his hand. Every voice has its counter-voice; no single character speaks on behalf of the author. Christopher Marlowe, by contrast, is a