Clinching what Reid Professor of English Philip J. Fisher called "the single most important appointment in literature at Harvard in the past 15 years," one of the country's foremost Shakespeare scholars accepted tenure at Harvard this week.
University of California-Berkeley professor Steven J. Greenblatt, who has taught off and on at Harvard for the last six years as a visiting professor, is world-renowned as one of the founding figures of new historicism, a form of criticism that combines historical, anthropological and cultural approaches to the study of literature.
According to Fisher, Greenblatt has become a generational icon in literary studies, in part because of his work as founder and editor of "Representations," a Berkeley journal.
"The simplest way to put it is that he's the single leading literary scholar of his generation," Fisher said.
Harvard has been trying to recruit Greenblatt for more than five years.
"It's been, you know, a long time that we've been hoping this would happen," said Leo Damrosch, chair of the English Department.
In a 1994 interview, Damrosch told The Crimson that the English Department had voted unanimously around 1989 to ask Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles to make an offer to Greenblatt.
Greenblatt said in 1994 that the administration "has been very kind and patient in allowing me to delay a decision. They have been very understanding of my family situation."
Greenblatt has two children, the younger of whom was a high school junior in 1994, when Greenblatt told The Crimson he would not come to Harvard before his son graduated from high school.
Although Harvard already boasts a prestigious Shakespearean scholar in Kenan Professor of English Marjorie Garber, faculty members say the two will complement each other.
"Harvard is a university that has usually had several great Shakespeareans at a time," Fisher said. "These are two great innovators here, and it's very unusual to have that."
Garber said she was thrilled to have her former Yale graduate school classmate joining her in the English Department.
According to Garber, the two scholars will offer students different perspectives on the Bard.
"I'm interested in cultural theory and Shakespeare as an institution...looking at Shakespeare's point of view from the 20th century." Garber said. "Steve starts in the 16th century; I start in the 20th century. We meet at Shakespeare."
According to Elaine M. Scarry, professor of English, Greenblatt is an influential figure in person as well as a world-class scholar.
"One of Steven Greenblatt's real powers is that he himself is such a unique and individual person, he himself is a great storyteller and a very charismatic teacher, but he is also a great collaborative figure," Scarry said.
A Norton Shakespeare anthology edited by Greenblatt is coming out soon.
Greenblatt was in Berlin yesterday and could not be reached for comment.
Officials at Berkeley said they were not yet aware of Greenblatt's decision to leave the school
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