Stephen Greenblatt


Stephen Greenblatt : biography

November 7, 1943 –

Greenblatt’s works on new historicism and “cultural poetics” include Practicing New Historicism (2000) (with Catherine Gallagher), in which Greenblatt discusses how “the anecdote… appears as the ‘touch of the real’” andTowards a Poetics of Culture (1987), in which Greenblatt asserts that the question of “how art and society are interrelated,” as posed by Jean-François Lyotard and Fredric Jameson, “cannot be answered by appealing to a single theoretical stance”. Renaissance Self-Fashioning and the Introduction to the Norton Shakespeare are regarded as good examples of Greenblatt’s application of new historicist practices.

Shakespeare and Renaissance studies

"I believe that nothing comes of nothing, even in Shakespeare. I wanted to know where he got the matter he was working with and what he did with that matter".

Greenblatt states in "King Lear and Harsnett’s ‘Double-Fiction’" that "Shakespeare’s self-consciousness is in significant ways bound up with the institutions and the symbology of power it anatomizes". His work on Shakespeare has addressed such topics as ghosts, purgatory, anxiety, exorcists and revenge. He is also a general editor of the Norton Shakespeare.

Greenblatt’s new historicism opposes the ways in which new criticism “[consigns] texts to an autonomous aesthetic realm that [dissociates] Renaissance writing from other forms of cultural production” and the historicist notion that Renaissance texts “[mirror]… a coherent world-view that was held by a whole population,” asserting instead “that critics who [wish] to understand sixteenth- and seventeenth-century writing must delineate the ways the texts they [study] were linked to the network of institutions, practices, and beliefs that constituted Renaissance culture in its entirety”. Greenblatt’s work in Renaissance studies includes Renaissance Self-Fashioning (1980), which “had a transformative impact on Renaissance studies”.

Norton Anthology of English Literature

Greenblatt joined M. H. Abrams as general editor of the Norton Anthology of English Literature published by W.W. Norton during the 1990s.Donadio, Rachel, The New York Times, January 8, 2006, He is also the co-editor of the anthology’s section on Renaissance literature. and the general editor of the Norton Shakespeare, “currently his most influential piece of public pedagogy".


  • 1964-66: Fulbright scholarship .
  • 1975: Guggenheim fellowship.
  • 1983: Guggenheim fellowship.
  • 1989: James Russell Lowell Prize of the Modern Language Association (Shakespearean Negotiations).
  • 2002: Honorary D.Litt., Queen Mary College, University of London.
  • 2002: Erasmus Institute Prize.
  • 2002: Mellon Distinguished Humanist Award
  • 2005: William Shakespeare Award for Classical Theatre, The Shakespeare Theatre, Washington, D.C.
  • 2006: Honorary degree, University of Bucharest, Romania.
  • 2010: Wilbur Cross Medal, Yale University.
  • 2011: National Book Award for Nonfiction, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. (With acceptance speech, interview, and reading).
  • 2012: Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern.


Life and career

Education and career

Greenblatt was born in Boston and raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts. After graduating from Newton North High School, he was educated at Yale University (B.A. 1964, M.Phil 1968, Ph.D. 1969) and Pembroke College, Cambridge (B.A. 1966, M.A. 1968). Greenblatt has since taught at University of California, Berkeley and Harvard University. He was Class of 1932 Professor at Berkeley (he became a full professor in 1980) and taught there for 28 years before taking a position at Harvard University, where in 1997 Greenblatt became the Harry Levin Professor of Literature. He was named John Cogan University Professor of the Humanities in 2000. Greenblatt is considered "a key figure in the shift from literary to cultural poetics and from textual to contextual interpretation in U.S. English departments in the 1980s and 1990s."

Greenblatt is a permanent fellow of the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin. As a visiting professor and lecturer, Greenblatt has taught at such institutions as the École des Hautes Études, the University of Florence, Kyoto University, the University of Oxford and Peking University. He was a resident fellow at the American Academy of Rome, and is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and has been president of the Modern Language Association.


Greenblatt self-identifies as an Eastern European Jew, an Ashkenazi, and a Litvak. His observant Jewish grandparents were born in Lithuania; his paternal grandparents were from Kovno and his maternal grandparents were from Vilna. Greenblatt’s grandparents immigrated to the United States during the early 1890s in order to escape a Czarist Russification plan to conscript young Jewish men into the Russian army.

Greenblatt has three children. He was married to Ellen Schmidt from 1969–96; they have two sons (Joshua, an attorney, and Aaron, a doctor). In 1998, he married fellow academic Ramie Targoff, also a Renaissance expert and a professor at Brandeis University; they have one son (Harry).


  • Clarendon Lectures, Oxford University (1988)
  • Carpenter Lectures, University of Chicago (1988)
  • Adorno Lectures, Goethe University Frankfurt (2006)
  • Campbell Lectures, Rice University (2008)