The Taming of the Shrew and The Merchant of Venice are two of Shakespeare’s most controversial and least loved (though very often performed) plays. While both of them are, by genre and intention, comedies, they often do not strike modern and contemporary audiences as such. The aim of this talk is not to dismiss concerns with misogyny and anti-Semitism as historically inappropriate or anachronistic, but to see what difference to our judgments some historical contextualizing and close reading can make. The plays will look rather different after these operations are performed on them, though they may still remain—as they probably should—potentially disturbing.
Richard Strier is the Frank L. Sulzberger Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of English and the College and an associate member of the Divinity School at the University of Chicago. He edits the journal, Modern Philology. His life-long project is to bring together two modes of literary study that have traditionally been seen as antagonistic: formalism and historicism. He is deeply interested in the intellectual history of the early modern period, especially theological and political ideas. Courses taught by Strier range from “Renaissance Intellectual Texts” to “Society and Politics in Shakespeare’s Plays” to “The Religious Lyric in England and America from the Renaissance to the Present.” His most recent book, The Unrepentant Renaissance from Petrarch to Shakespeare to Milton (University of Chicago Press, 2011), was recently awarded the 2011 Robert Penn Warren-Cleanth Brooks Award for Literary Criticism. His previous books include: Resistant Structures: Particularity, Radicalism, and Renaissance Texts (University of California Press, 1995) and Love Known: Theology and Experience in George Herbert’s Poetry (University of Chicago Press, 1965).