When Stephen Greenblatt walked into the library of Benson High School, Elisa Wong’s senior AP English class fell into an expectant hush. The students had been studying Hamlet and read a chapter of Greenblatt’s book, Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare in advance, so they were prepared with questions for the Pulitzer Prize-winning author.
Greenblatt’s enthusiasm for Shakespeare was contagious, and students listened raptly as he talked about the time and culture in which Shakespare wrote Hamlet. He noted that the play includes more than a hundred new English words and pointed out how making up language was a risky endeavor, but Hamlet was a smash hit. Greenblatt compared the play’s continuing relevance to a bone stuck in our culture’s throat: we cannot swallow it, nor spit it out.
When a student asked which of Shakespeare’s plays Greenblatt preferred, he listed several, saying that to pick a favorite play is like taking a Rorshach test. “It reveals something about you.”
Students applauded afterward, and approached Greenblatt with more questions. He had to return to Literary Arts for a meeting with local writers, but he and the students chatted all the way to the front door of the high school. Overall, it was a great event. Thanks to everyone who helped us to organize it!