Bard Plays Lead for Garber

Harvard Professor's career has covered myriad topics--but Shakespeare's at the center

For Marjorie Garber, a 392-year-old English playwright is of real importance to today’s world. Indeed, even after having written five books on William Shakespeare—most notably one that extensively chronicled all 38 of his plays—Garber, who is a professor of English and Visual and Environmental Studies, has yet to exhaust the continuing relevance of Shakespeare’s works in contemporary society.

Garber’s scholarly project is to emphasize that literature is not a static entity, but rather a dynamic force that can effect change. For instance, in “Coming of Age in Shakespeare,” she broached issues regarding identity and sexuality as seen in Shakespeare’s plays and related them to modern cultural trends.

“I want to emphasize the way literature can have an effect upon history and culture,” she writes in an e-mail to The Crimson. “Literature is not just a second-order phenomenon. It does cultural work in the world.”

Garber’s newest work, “Shakespeare and Modern Culture”—which is also the name of a course she is currently teaching—is certainly in line with the rest of her oeuvre. Garber says that her objective in focusing her attention on 10 specific plays through critical essays that expound on certain universal themes was to explore the interdependent relationship between Shakespeare and popular culture, especially by tracing the playwright’s influence on society as it develops through the ages.

“[This book] covers the two eras that have been most important to my work and my thought—modernity and the English Renaissance,” Garber says. “It emphasizes the ways in which the plays of Shakespeare are living things that grow and change over time.”

Though a respected Shakespearean scholar, Garber has also tackled many controversial yet disparate subjects, ranging from animal studies in “Dog Love” to the discussion of a new form of fetish in “Sex and Real Estate: Why We Love Houses.” But despite her varied passions, the premises of all her works are rooted in a common purpose.

“I’m not a historian, but rather a literary critic, interested in language, in interpretation, and in the analysis of works of literature, art, and culture. Many of my books, both those on Shakespeare and those on other topics, engage with contemporary life,” Garber says.

And as such, she considers herself “as much a modernist as I am a Renaissance everything I write, whether it’s an Op-Ed article or a magazine piece, Shakespeare has played an important role.”

Despite what could seem to be the rather narrow focus of “Shakespeare and Modern Culture,” Garber is quick to point out that the book seeks to appeal not only to the world of academia but also to the larger public. In this manner, she says, she hopes to enrich young students and others “whose interest in Shakespeare has continued throughout their professional and personal lives.”

“I do see this book, like ‘Shakespeare After All,’ as speaking to a wide general audience as well as to Shakespeare scholars, students, and playgoers,” Garber says. “I’m committed to the idea that there is a strong readership for books and articles on literature and culture.”

Moreover, as both a professor and an author, Garber recognizes that she has a unique perspective on what it means to work in the academic arena, an environment that is as prone to change and excitement as the works of Shakespeare.

“I think of myself as a scholar, critic, and teacher. For me these roles are mutually reinforcing,” she says. “Some of my writing comes out of my teaching, and some of my teaching comes out of my writing—I’ve found that these intellectual worlds are importantly interconnected. All of them give pleasure, and all of them offer constantly changing challenges, surprises, and satisfactions.”


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