Public Shakespeare

It is a testament to Shakespeare’s generic flexibility – his mixture of comedy and tragedy – that his works are appropriated to explain the news in both comic ways (the light-hearted mockery done in citation opportunism) and tragic ways (the solemn-minded analysis done by public Shakespeareans). If citational opportunism involves cultural critics using Shakespeare, public Shakespeare is scholars doing cultural criticism. Usually, allusions to Shakespeare in instances of citational opportunism are decorative, but allusions in public Shakespeare are substantive. Where citational opportunism tends to be about the Shakespearean line or character, public Shakespeare attends to the scene or situation. Citational opportunism employs a Shakespearean quotation or allusion with little or no analysis, but public Shakespeare presents sometimes extensive analysis of the text. Thus, the symbol of citational opportunism is the equals sign: it suggests one-to-one correspondences between Shakespearean lines or characters and modern politicians. Here Shakespeare’s value is rhetorical – his writing can make learning fun and memorable – and the purpose is usually to mock, to satirize, to suggest absurdity, and to elicit self-satisfied laughter. In contrast, the symbol of public Shakespeare is the lens: it identifies similar situations (and is at pains to qualify the analogy) to suggest similar interpretations. It exploits Shakespeare’s analytical value – knowledge derived from Shakespeare studies has valuable applications in non-literary contexts – and the purpose is to provide clarity, to make sense of the modern situation. In the end, the citational opportunism that attempts to establish equals signs between Shakespearean characters and modern people will always be suspect, but the public Shakespeareans who do a close reading of some Shakespearean text in an effort to do a close reading of some aspect of modern culture have the potential to be a productive force.

In a sense, public Shakespearans are doing in written, argumentative essays what modern-dress productions of Shakespeare have always done: reframing his texts in overtly modern terms to suggest similar interpretations of similar situations. Modern-dress productions used to be the first point of contact to discover the on-going resonances of Shakespeare’s plays in modern society. Now, public Shakespeare is reaching those audiences faster; more importantly, public Shakespeare is reaching more and different audiences. The modern resonances of Shakespeare’s plays are no longer restricted to theater-goers and those who can afford the price of the ticket: a democratization of Shakespearean appropriation.


Noah Berlatsky, "Shakespeare's Conservatism," The Atlantic (Aug. 5, 2014).

Hannah Walser, “I Crave the Law,” Arcade (Dec. 20, 2014).

Stephen Greenblatt, “Teaching a Different Shakespeare From the One I Love,” The New York Times Magazine (Sept. 11, 2015).

R.L., “Why lawyers love Shakespeare,” The Economist (Jan. 8, 2016).

Damian Flannagan, “In search of Japan's own Shakespeare,” The Japan Times (April 23, 2016).

Stephen Greenblatt, “Shakespeare Explains the 2016 Election,” The New York Times (Oct. 8, 2016).

H.G., “How to translate Shakespeare into American Sign Language,” The Economist (Nov. 3, 2016).

Matteo Pangallo, "You're All Liars: Donald Trump as Shakespeare's Saddest Villain," The Shakespeare Standard (Feb. 11, 2017).

Laura Collins-Hughes, “Using Shakespeare to Ease the Trauma of War,” The New York Times (March 9, 2017).

Jesse Green, “Can Trump Survive in Caesar’s Palace?” The New York Times (June 9, 2017).

Anita Diamant, “Who Will Believe Thee? Shakespeare's 'Measure For Measure' On Weinstein, Trump And Justice,” WBUR (Oct. 16, 2017).

Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore, “If a Shakespeare play is racist or antisemitic, is it OK to change the ending?” The Guardian (Nov. 3, 2017).

Alicia Andrzejewski, "Ophelia’s Rue," Synapsis (Nov. 26, 2017).

Mark Lawson, “Bard Example: Can Shakespeare Translate to the Small Screen?” The Guardian (April 2, 2018).

Matteo Pangallo, "Kids These Days: Romeo and Juliet and #NeverAgain," The Shakespeare Standard (April 10, 2018).

Alicia Andrzejewski, "Postpartum Exhaustion in William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale and Now," Synapsis (April 29, 2018).

Kathryn Vomero Santos, “WTF, Shakespeare,” Shakespeare Quarterly Web Exclusives.

Kathryn Vomero Santos, "How Royal History is Changing the Future," CNN (May 23, 2018).

Austin Tichenor, “Shakespeare’s patriotic empathy,” Shakespeare & Beyond (July 13, 2018).

Walt Hunter, “When Hamlet Starts Showing Up in Federal Court,” The Atlantic (June 13, 2018).

Lee Seymour, “Is Shakespeare The Key To Detroit's Recovery?” Forbes (Sept. 10, 2018).

Michæl Lutz, "Love/Alters/Not: Bisexuality, History, and the Present," Medium (Sept. 12, 2018).

Peter C. Herman, "Shakespeare, Kavanaugh and an Ancient Theme of Sexual Hypocrisy," Times of San Diego (Sept. 24, 2018).

Yuan Yang, “The Bard in Beijing: how Shakespeare is subverting China,” Financial Times (Oct. 5, 2018).

Gary Taylor, “Death of an English Major,” Tampa Bay Times (Nov. 9, 2018).

Rebecca Yearling, “Snowflakes and Trigger warnings: Shakespearean Violence has Always Upset People,” The Conversation (Nov. 22, 2018).

Michael Anderegg, “Was it the first Shakespeare film? The silent King John,” Shakespeare & Beyond (Nov. 27, 2018).

Iman Lavery, “What Shakespeare Can Tell Us About School Shootings,” Public Seminar (Dec. 12, 2018).

Jane Hwang Degenhardt, "Between Shakespeare, the World, and Me," The Rambling 3 (Jan. 26, 2019).

Emily Lanthrop, "Teaching and Taming: On Bianca in The Taming of the Shrew and #MeToo," The Rambling 3 (Jan. 26, 2019).

Carol Mejia LaPerle, "Suicide and State Power at the Columbus Statehouse and in Othello," The Rambling 3 (Jan. 26, 2019).

Henry Turner, "Pragmatism, Race, and the Collective Subject in Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors," The Rambling 3 (Jan. 26, 2019).

Emily Weissbourd, "Lee Garrett, The Bachelorette’s Incompetent Iago," The Rambling 3 (Jan. 26, 2019).

Laura Kolb, “The Very Modern Anger of Shakespeare’s Women,” Electric Literature (Feb. 6, 2019).

Stuart Kells, "How the Invisible Hand of William Shakespeare Influenced Adam Smith," Smithsonian (April 9, 2019).

Elizabeth Winkler, "Was Shakespeare a Woman," The Atlantic (June 7, 2019). Plus Responses by David Scott Kastan, Phyllis Rackin, James Shapiro, Mark Rylance, and David Ellis, "Shakespeare and Company," The Atlantic (June 8, 2019).

Marcos Gonsalez, "Caliban Never Belonged to Shakespeare," Literary Hub (July 26, 2019).

Alex Grayson, "Disney Meet Shakespeare," Northern Kentucky Tribune (May 3, 2019).

Philip LaPorte, "The Bard and Bollywood," Spectator USA (May 7, 2019).

Jordan Mubako, "Learning to Hate Shakespeare," Public Seminar (June 17, 2019).

Seven Richmond, "The Outcast State: Shakespeare’s Unlikely Connection to Black Subjectivity," Public Seminar (June 18, 2019).

Mercedes Sapuppo, "How Shakespeare Helps Us Challenge the Far-Right in Europe," Public Seminar (June 19, 2019).

Max Serrano-Wu, "An Unexpected Concertmaster: How Shakespeare Influenced the Romantic Era," Public Shakespeare (June 20, 2019).

Luke Williams, "Shakespeare on Helicopter Parenting," Public Seminar (June 22, 2019).

James Shapirio, "An Unexpected Letter from John Paul Stevens, Shakespeare Skeptic," The New Yorker (Aug. 6, 2019).

Jason Scott-Warren, "Milton’s Shakespeare?" Centre for Material Texts (Sept. 9, 2019).

Jonathan Beecher Field, "Got Shakespeare?" Boston Review (Sept. 20, 2019).

Kimberly Anne Coles, Kim F. Hall, and Ayanna Thompson, "BlacKKKShakespearean: A Call to Action for Medieval and Early Modern Studies," Profession (Fall 2019).