The Newberry Library and Chicago Shakespeare Theater invite three great American scholars from the world of Shakespeare to address three very different topics. The series will open with James Shapiro, distinguished author of several widely popular Shakespeare books, including 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare. Shapiro will speak on the tumultuous year of 1606 that launched Shakespeare’s great, late tragedies, including King Lear, the subject of his latest book. In addition to Shapiro’s talk, lecture-goers have the opportunity to explore the Newberry’s ongoing fall exhibition, Creating Shakespeare.
Shakespeare, Equivocation and 1606
by James Shapiro
When Shakespeare first used the word "equivocation" in Hamlet it was in the neutral sense of "ambiguous." Seven years later he would make much of this word in Macbeth (whose protagonist complains of the 'equivocation of the fiend /That lies like truth"). By then the word 'equivocation' was understood to mean something duplicitous, a device by which Catholics in particular could justify lying under oath. This talk traces the strange history of this resonant word, examining how this sea-change in meaning came about in the wake of the Gunpowder Plot and discovery of a "Treatise of Equivocation." The talk focuses in particular on Shakespeare's complex handling of "equivocation," and how his use of the word in Macbeth spoke powerfully to this fraught cultural moment.
James Shapiro is the Larry Miller Professor of English at Columbia University, where he has taught since 1985. His books include Shakespeare and the Jews (1996) , 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare (2005), Contested Will (2010), the anthology Shakespeare in America (2014), and The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606 (2015) . He has also co-authored and presented two BBC documentaries: Shakespeare: The King's Man and The Mysterious Mr. Webster. He serves on the Board of Directors of the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Board of Governors of the Folger Shakespeare Library, and is Shakespeare Scholar in Residence at New York's Public Theater.