Faculty Author Q&A: Leonard Barkan on “Reading Shakespeare Reading Me”

May 4, 2022

Leonard Barkan is the Class of 1943 University Professor at Princeton and Professor of Comparative Literature. His book “Reading Shakespeare Reading Me” was published in April 2022 by Fordham University Press.

How did you get the idea for this project?

I’ve spent almost my whole life with Shakespeare and at least five of my books had something to do with his work, but I’ve never written a book all about Shakespeare.

How has your project developed or changed throughout the research and writing process?

I wanted to write about Shakespeare, about reading, and about me, and that was pretty much the path I followed. What I discovered was that the more I thought about myself, my life—including in very personal terms, sometimes shockingly so—and my love of Shakespeare, the more those topics coalesced into a story. The pandemic was also a factor. Lots of scholars have written books along the lines of “Shakespeare and ….” In a year and a half of lockdown, I didn’t have complete access to the “and.” But I always had access to me.

What questions for future investigation has the project sparked?

I have written about myself in a number of books that weren’t explicitly autobiographical; they always had a larger project outside myself—for instance in “Satyr Square: A Year, a Life in Rome” and “Berlin for Jews.” I have begun to dare to write about myself without further external reference—no Rome, no Berlin, no Shakespeare. Perhaps I can dare to stop leaning on one of those external topics, fascinating as they have all been for me.

Why should people read this book?

This is not your English teacher’s Shakespeare; this is Shakespeare through the eyes of someone who has been reading and living via that great body of literature for sixty years. It is a record of how the books we read are integral to the life we lead. Anyone who loves to read, anyone who loves Shakespeare, anyone who likes to look into the life of an inveterate, addicted reader will find this book worth … reading.

Learn more about other publications by Princeton University faculty in the humanities by exploring our Faculty Bookshelf.

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