Originally broadcast at 7 pm ET Thursday, March 11, 2021.
Book available online at the Chautauqua Bookstore: https://www.chautauquabookstore.com/book/9780525522317
In a narrative arching across the centuries, James Shapiro traces the unparalleled role of Shakespeare's 400-year-old tragedies and comedies in making sense of so many of these issues, on which the American identity has turned. Reflecting on how Shakespeare has been invoked—and at times weaponized—at pivotal moments in our past, Shapiro takes us from President John Quincy Adams's disgust with Desdemona's interracial marriage to Othello, to Abraham Lincoln's and his assassin John Wilkes Booth's competing obsessions with the plays, up through the fraught debates over marriage and same-sex love at the heart of the celebrated adaptations Kiss Me, Kate and Shakespeare in Love.
Shakespeare in a Divided America shows that no writer has been more closely embraced by Americans, or has shed more light on the hot-button issues in our history. Indeed, it is by better understanding Shakespeare's role in American life, Shapiro argues, that we might begin to mend our bitterly divided land.
James Shapiro, Professor of English at Columbia University, is author of the prizewinning 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare (2005), Contested Will (2010), The Year of Lear (2015), and most recently Shakespeare in a Divided America (2020), selected one of the ten best books of the year by the New York Times. He has been awarded Guggenheim, Cullman, and NEH fellowships, and has been inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He serves on the Board of Directors of the Royal Shakespeare Company, and is Shakespeare Scholar in Residence at the Public Theater in New York.
About Chautauqua Institution: Chautauqua Institution is a community on the shores of Chautauqua Lake in southwestern New York state that comes alive each summer with a unique mix of fine and performing arts, lectures, interfaith worship and programs, and recreational activities. As a community, we celebrate, encourage and study the arts and treat them as integral to all of learning, and we convene the critical conversations of the day to advance understanding through civil dialogue. CHQ Assembly is the online expression of Chautauqua Institution's mission.