stephen metcalf chats with ron rosenbaum


I’m a longtime admirer of your work and am thrilled that you have written a book about Shakespeare. Why don’t we dive right in?

The Shakespeare Wars: Clashing Scholars, Public Fiascoes, Palace Coups is a conversion narrative. Once you were a young literary intellectual whose preference was for the poetry of John Donne. Then, you saw Peter Brook’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and your life, as you report it, changed. That night in 1970, you write that you “felt as if [you] were imbibing the pure distilled essence of exhilaration.” You soon add, “And I did fall in love that night” and still later: “One night in Stratford, England, something strange happened to me watching Peter Brook’s Dream. Something I haven’t recovered from.” Your book, however, is not one long, ecstatic valentine to Shakespeare. Your conversion led you to believe in Shakespeare’s “bottomlessness,” as you put it, his unique ability to repay infinite rereadings; but it also led you, of all things, to scholarship—to the arcane textual controversies that have animated Shakespeare studies for hundreds of years. On the one hand, then, your book is a joyous appreciation; but on the other, it is a fine piece of reportage on the scholarly infighting behind the scenes in Shakespeare studies.

more of the disucssion from Slate here.