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Plutarch the Elizabethan: Shakespeare's formative influence on Plutarch

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Dr Elinor Shaffer FBA.

Reading & Reception Studies Seminar, Classical Reception Series

Plutarch gave Renaissance Europe as much stimulus to imaginative treatments of antiquity as any other source. Sir Thomas North’s rich Elizabethan translation of the Lives is the undoubted source of Shakespeare’s knowledge of Plutarch.

Scholarly work on Shakespeare’s Plutarch has never been in short supply, but its principle has always been mono-directional: what Shakespeare ‘took’ or ‘learned’ from Plutarch/North, rather than how the dialogue affected them. Yet North’s work is now best known as a Shakespeare source, and in the English-speaking world, at least, Plutarch is often encountered primarily in that capacity too. Hence it can be argued that all post-Elizabethan readings of Plutarch’s Lives are affected by the dynamics of this cultural moment.

This discussion sets out with the Life of Antony and Antony and Cleopatra, then moves to some later Cleopatras and the post-Renaissance Plutarchan tradition of biography, to ask whether Plutarch will always be an Elizabethan, or whether other Plutarchs are recuperable and/or desirable.

Stuart Gillespie is Reader in English Literature at Glasgow University. His monograph on English Translation and Classical Reception is published by Wiley-Blackwell this year. He is general editor (with Peter France) of the five-volume Oxford History of Literary Translation in English (2005 onwards), the Renaissance volume of which (the 4th of the 5 vols to appear) he has co-edited for publication also in late 2010. In the field of classical reception he co-edited The Cambridge Companion to Lucretius (with Philip Hardie, 2007), and is currently writing for the Oxford History of Classical Reception in English Literature and the Blackwell Companion to Persius and Juvenal. His principal recent publications on Shakespeare are the reference work Shakespeare’s Books: A Dictionary of Shakespeare’s Reading (2001), and essay collection Shakespeare and Elizabethan Popular Culture (edited with Neil Rhodes for the Arden Shakespeare, 2006).

A discussion will follow Dr Gillespie’s paper, and the seminar will conclude with drinks at 6.45 p.m.

Dr Gillespie’s paper launches the Seminar’s Classical Reception Series in Cambridge. The first London event in the Series takes place on Tuesday, 16 March, at 5.30 pm in the School of Advanced Study, University of London, when Prof. Michael Silk (Kings, London) will present his paper:

‘Receptions and Other Relationships: From the Ridiculous to the Sublime (Longinus, Kant, Lyotard, Shakespeare, Euripides)’

All are welcome!

Image: Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, ‘The Banquet of Cleopatra’ [1746-47], detail of fresco in Palazzo Labia, Venice

Seminar webpage: http://www.clarehall.cam.ac.uk/index.php?id=333

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