It’s a paradox that has bothered Shakespeare’s fans for centuries: the man was as insightful into human beings as anyone whoever lived, and yet his own life is barely documented. This combination of literary genius plus biographical uncertainty has spun off a number of mysteries – including the question of how exactly Shakespeare came to know the things that he did.
In this episode, Jacke talks to investigative journalist Michael Blanding, author of In Shakespeare’s Shadow, about a renegade scholar named Dennis McCarthy’s theory that Shakespeare may have drawn upon a previously unknown source – the lost plays of Sir Thomas North – and how Blanding himself joined the pursuit of searching for evidence to support McCarthy’s theory.
For years, we’ve enjoyed talking to writers about the books they love best. In this “best of” episode, we go deep into the archive for three of our favorites: Jim Shepard and his youthful discovery of Bram Stoker’s Dracula; Margot Livesey and her love for Ford Madox Ford’s modernist classic The Good Soldier; and Charles Baxter telling us about his love for the poetry of James Wright. Enjoy!
Since the first publication of his six-volume magnum opus, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon (1734-1797) has been ranked among the greatest historians who ever lived. What made his work different? Does it hold up today? And what lessons can a modern-day historian draw from his example? In this episode, Jacke talks with author Zachary Karabell about Gibbon’s inspiration, influence, and legacy.
ZACHARY KARABELL is the author of numerous books, including Inside Money: Brown Brothers Harriman and the American Way of Power and The Leading Indicators: A Short History of the Numbers That Rule Our World. He is also the founder of the Progress Network at New America, the president of River Twice Capital, and the host of the podcast “What Could Go Right?”
Additional listening suggestions:
321 Thucydides 285 Herodotus 36 Poetry and Empire (Virgil, Ovid, Horace, Petronius, Catullus) Help support the show at patreon.com/literature or historyofliterature.com/shop. The History of Literature Podcast is a member of Lit Hub Radio and the Podglomerate Network. Learn more at http://www.thepodglomerate.com/historyofliterature.
In our last episode, Jacke looked at the life of celebrated Japanese poet Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694), the widely acknowledged master of haiku. In this episode, Jacke looks deeper into the nature of Bashō’s best works, organizing them into some loose categories and offering some thoughts on haiku in Bashō’s world and ours.
In addition to being what is probably the most widely used poetic form, haiku is almost certainly the most often misunderstood. In this episode, Jacke examines the life and works of Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694), haiku’s greatest master, as he sorts through his thoughts on the uses (and potential misuses) of the haiku form. What makes much of it so bad? And how does that differ from what is truly great?
Born Tomáš Sträussler, in what was then Czechoslovakia, celebrated playwright Tom Stoppard (1937- ) became one of the best known British playwrights in the world. Known for his with and humor, his facility with language, and the depth of his philosophical inquiries, he found success with plays like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, The Coast of Utopia, The Invention of Love, and The Real Thing. He has also been a successful writer for radio, television, and film, with scripts like Shakespeare in Love and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade benefiting from his eye for drama and ear for dialogue. In this episode, Jacke talks to television producer and playwright Scott Carter about his admiration for Tom Stoppard’s life and works.
Additional listening suggestions:
Samuel Beckett 114 Christopher Marlowe 353 Oscar Wilde in Prison (with Scott Carter)
Czech novelist Karel Čapek (1890-1938) might be best known as the pioneering science fiction writer who first coined the term “robot.” But readers have long appreciated the transcendent humanity of his works. “There was no writer like him,” Arthur Miller once said, “prophetic assurance mixed with surrealistic humor and hard-edged social satire: a unique combination…a joy to read.” In this episode, Jacke talks to podcast producer Ian Coss about the life of Karel Čapek, his contributions to literature, and how Čapek’s celebrated novel War with the Newts inspired Ian’s audio fiction series Newts, a farcical, yet deadly serious tale about an alternate history of the 1930s, in which the Western world discovers, exploits, educates, arms, and is ultimately overthrown by a species of highly intelligent, three-foot tall salamanders. SPECIAL BONUS CONTENT: We conclude the episode with a trailer for Newts.
During his lifetime, Wallace Stegner (1909-1993) became famous for his prizewinning fiction and autobiographical works; his dedication to environmental causes; and his initiation of the creative writing program at Stanford University that bears his name. His most celebrated works, including Angle of Repose, The Spectator Bird, and Crossing to Safety are still much-loved and widely read – even as accusations have emerged that in at least one instance, Stegner appropriated and plagiarized the work of another writer. In this episode, Jacke talks to Melodie Edwards, independent bookstore owner and host of the Peabody-nominated, Murrow-winning podcast The Modern West (produced by Wyoming Public Radio and PRX) about the “dean of American western writing” and his complicated legacy.