February 06, 1997
Harvard
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HARVARD GAZETTE ARCHIVES

Renaissance Literature Scholar to Join FAS

By Debra Bradley Ruder

Gazette Staff

Stephen Greenblatt, a leading scholar of Renaissance literature who has been sought after by Harvard for many years, has accepted a tenure appointment in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

The appointment was approved by the Governing Boards this week and takes effect July 1. Greenblatt's title will be professor of English and American literature and language.

"Everybody's delighted that he's coming," said Leo Damrosch, Ernest Bernbaum Professor of Literature and chair of the English Department. "He's probably the leading Renaissance literature scholar in the English-speaking world and has been for a number of years, and he's famous as a brilliant lecturer and teacher."

Greenblatt has been on the faculty at the University of California, Berkeley, since 1969 and currently holds the title of Class of 1932 Professor. He has taught on and off at Harvard since 1990, most recently in the fall of 1994.

Although he will continue to teach Shakespeare, he will likely offer courses on other aspects of the fertile Renaissance period that produced the likes of Christopher Marlowe, Edmund Spenser, and Sir Walter Ralegh, who was the subject of a 1973 book by Greenblatt.

Greenblatt is a founder of "new historicism," a school of literary criticism that seeks to understand the historical, social, and anthropological context in which art was produced.

"I've been interested in what kinds of negotiations took place between great works of art and their surroundings," he explained in a phone interview from Berlin, where he is currently on leave at an institute for advanced study.

Harvard has been interested in Greenblatt since the late 1980s, and Greenblatt finally felt the time was right to say "yes" to a permanent position. One factor involved his children, who are now both in college; one is a senior at Cornell and the other is a first-year student at Yale.

Greenblatt looks forward to joining the English Department -- "it's quite a remarkable group of people" -- and to working with Shakespeare scholar Marjorie Garber, the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of English and a graduate school classmate of Greenblatt's.

"Marge tends to approach the Renaissance in a contemporary and theoretical way, and I tend to approach it in a cultural and historical way, and we meet somewhere in between," Greenblatt said.

"I think it'll be a wonderful complement," Damrosch predicted of Garber and Greenblatt. He noted that Greenblatt will be a welcome addition to the instructional team, as a Shakespeare course is required of all English concentrators.

While in Berlin, Greenblatt is concentrating on three projects. He is putting finishing touches on The Norton Shakespeare, for which he is general editor and which is due out in March. He is also co-writing a book about new historicism with a Berkeley colleague, and he is examining "conjuring" in the Renaissance period for a possible future book.

Among his published volumes are Marvelous Possessions: The Wonder of the New World (1991), Learning to Curse: Essays in Early Modern Culture (1990), and Shakespearean Negotiations: The Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance England (1988). The latter won the James Russell Lowell Prize of the Modern Language Association in 1989.

He has lectured widely in the U.S., Canada, Europe, South America, Asia, and Australia, and he is the founding editor and co-chair of Representations, an influential literary-cultural journal.

Greenblatt, who grew up in Newton, earned bachelor's degrees from Yale College and Pembroke College, Cambridge, in 1964 and 1966, respectively, and a Ph.D. from Yale University in 1969. He has been at Berkeley ever since, and leaving after so many years will be painful, he admitted.

"I've always felt that Berkeley is the greatest public university and that Harvard is the greatest private university, and I have all the appropriate difficult feelings about leaving," Greenblatt said. "But I'm also excited about the change."

 


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