Stephen Greenblatt (1943-) - Key Figures in Literary Theory

The Blackwell Guide to Literary Theory - Gregory Castle 2007

Stephen Greenblatt (1943-)
Key Figures in Literary Theory

Stephen Greenblatt was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He studied at Yale University and Cambridge University, receiving his doctorate from Yale in 1969. He began teaching at the University of California at Berkeley that year and remained there until 1997, when he moved to Harvard University. In 2000, he became Cogan University Professor of the Humanities.

In his early years at Berkeley, Greenblatt was influenced by Raymond Williams and attended seminars given by Michel Foucault. The very different approaches to literary history and social theory represented by these theorists combined in Greenblatt’s work to produce a nuanced style of close reading sensitive to the impact made on texts by social and historical forces. His third book, Renaissance Self-Fashioning (1980), drew on Foucault’s ARCHAEOLOGICAL method of historical writing to describe the various ways that social power determines the subject and the representation of SUBJECTIVITY. It was widely read and regarded as a leading example of the New Historicism then emerging out of Renaissance studies. The New Historicist method was popularized in the pages of Representations, a journal co-founded by Greenblatt.

Greenblatt refined his new approach to mapping social power and its literary effects in Shakespearean Negotiations (1988). In addition to his editorial responsibilities with Representations, Greenblatt edited numerous volumes of essays. He also continued to produce scholarly studies of early modern literatures. Together with Catherine Gallagher, Greenblatt revisited the theoretical problems of New Historicism in Practicing New Historicism (2000). This text both situates New Historicism in the academic and social contexts of the late 1970s and ’80s and offers virtuoso readings by acknowledged masters in the field. In 2004, Greenblatt made the headlines again with a new biography of Shakespeare, Will in the World, which was shortlisted for the National Book Award.


Gallagher, Catherine and Stephen Greenblatt. Practicing New Historicism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

Greenblatt, Stephen. Greenblatt Reader. Eds. Michael Payne and Stephen Green- blatt. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2005.

---- . Learning to Curse: Essays in Early Modern Culture. New York: Routledge, 1990.

---- . Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980.