Conversations on Shakespeare
In the spring of 2020 two old friends from graduate school, on opposite sides of the country, began email conversations about Shakespeare. Dustin Griffin, living in Williamstown Massachusetts and Michael O’Connell in Santa Barbara California, both retired professors who had taught Shakespeare until their retirement a decade earlier, decided they would reread Shakespeare and discuss the plays act by act in an immediate and fresh way. Many of the plays were very familiar from their teaching and research, but other plays they had not read for years, in some cases since their own time in undergraduate and graduate school fifty years earlier.
About the Project
The background was the COVID-19 pandemic and the quarantine that it forced on them and the world that Spring and would continue for the next three years. They and their spouses had traveled together, but travel was now out of the question. So they began their rereading of Shakespeare. Eventually they read and reread and commented on all of Shakespeare’s plays, his sonnets and narrative poems, and even some apocryphal Shakespeare plays.
Their method was for one to read an act, send a commentary to the other, who would respond and send a commentary on the next act, ending with general comments on the play or poems. They chose the plays more or less randomly, though they read the history plays in order. In attempting fresh readings, they sometimes found themselves arguing with Shakespeare, asking why something or some character was done the way it had been, presuming to make suggestions to him. And of course they argued with one another.
By the time they had finished they found they had produced almost three hundred pages of text. They propose now to release their discussions on this web page, one at at time, with a space for other readers to respond both to them and to Shakespeare.
Dustin Griffin, “Dusty” in the text, is Professor Emeritus of English at New York University. Michael O’Connell, “Michael” in the text, is Professor Emeritus of English at the University of California Santa Barbara.