St. Olaf College | News

Institute hosts conversation with Columbia professor on ‘Shakespeare in a Divided America’

As part of its fall lecture series, the St. Olaf College Institute for Freedom and Community hosted a conversation with Columbia University Professor of English and Comparative Literature James Shapiro titled Shakespeare in a Divided America.

The conversation, moderated by Morrison Family Director of the Institute for Freedom and Community Edmund Santurri, shared the same title as the book Shapiro published this year, which explores how Shakespeare’s works shed light on some of the most hot-button issues in American history.

“If you’re worried about the current state of the Republic, this is a book that will stoke your fears — while educating you on why you might justifiably be having them,” notes the New York Times review of Shakespeare in a Divided America: What His Plays Tell Us About Our Past and Future.

Shapiro’s book culminates in the 2017 controversy over the staging of Julius Caesar in New York City’s Central Park, in which a Trump-like leader is assassinated. The production created a firestorm of controversy over the message of the play, conservatives tried to “cancel” the play, and it generated national discussion about the critical role that contesting points of view play in a democracy.

Santurri began the Institute conversation by asking about this event. Watch the full ensuing conversation in the video above or on the Institute for Freedom and Community web page.

In addition to Shakespeare in a Divided America, Shapiro is also the author of the prizewinning 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare (2005), Contested Will (2010), and The Year of Lear (2015). He has been awarded Guggenheim, Cullman, and National Endowment for the Humanities (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.

This conversation is part of the Institute’s 2020 fall series, The Presidential Election and a Nation in Crisis: Polarization, Pandemic, Prejudice. The series has focused on the political divisions in the U.S. leading up to the 2020 presidential election, as well as discussions about similarly polarizing issues such as race and class, and the nation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to Shapiro, speakers to date have included former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang and Georgetown University professor Marcia Chatelain

NPR host Amy Walter, known as one of the best political journalists covering Washington, will be the guest in a discussion this Monday, October 26, on The State of the Presidential Election. Yale University professor and Cuban exile Carlos Eire will be the guest in a discussion this Tuesday, October 27, on Icons and Iconoclasm: In Religion, Politics, and the Academy. The fall series will conclude with a discussion on November 10 with Mike Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota, on Public Policy and Covid-19.