Although Marist offers a medley of exciting guest speakers, some of the most highly anticipated are usually part of the annual George Sommer Lecture. This year’s speaker was no different. James Shapiro, one the world’s leading experts on Shakespearean literature, spoke to a captivated Marist audience on October 29th.
Shapiro is the Larry Miller Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University and has published several books examining Shakespeare’s work: “Shakespeare and the Jews,” “1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare,” “Shakespeare in America,” “Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?” and many more. Among his list of impressive accolades, Shapiro has won the Samuel Johnson Prize, which is given annually to the best non-fiction book. He has also been awarded fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Guggenheim Foundation and the New York Public Library’s Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers.
Before his main lecture, Shapiro spoke to a smaller audience about the intricacies of the Shakespearean sonnet. This lecture was shorter, but more personal; Shapiro even spent time talking to students one-on-one after his talk, giving students a more candid experience.
“It was incredible to watch such a brilliant scholar delve into the complexity of the Shakespearean language,” said junior Anna Carbone. “It was as though he was relaying an authentic conversation with Shakespeare about how a sonnet should be read.”
During the main lecture, Shapiro discussed topics from his latest book, “Shakespeare in America.” He used three anecdotes to illustrate how influential Shakespeare has been in our country and how his work has persisted over centuries. The first anecdote discussed an essay written by President John Quincy Adams, the second was an essay written by women’s rights activist, Jane Addams, and the third was about a short story written by a prisoner in a Japanese internment camp during World War II. Even though they were written hundreds of years apart, all three pieces asserted the importance of Shakespeare’s work and how it was relevant to their societal issues.
“I was fascinated with the theory [James] Shapiro put forth about why Shakespeare is essential in American culture,” said senior, Phoebe Bradbury. “[Shakespeare’s] work comments on issues people tend to sweep under the rug.”
Over the course of an hour, Shapiro was able to rewind the years and transport Marist to the Elizabethan era, where students and faculty were able to discuss Shakespeare much more profoundly.
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