Literary Genius of Shakespeare

Seth Lerer – University of California at San Diego

Where would we be without Shakespeare? The romantic love of the "star-crossed" Romeo and Juliet, the Oedipal complex of the eternally indecisive Hamlet, the "vaulting ambition" (Shakespeare's phrase) of the tortured Macbeth… all of these characters and so many more are an integral part of our collective memories. Shakespeare's surviving works consist of 38 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems, and several other poems embedded into the plays themselves. It is indeed impossible to imagine the English language and Western literature without Shakespeare, who many believe to be the greatest writer of all time. However we rank him, one thing is certain: when we read Shakespeare we encounter genius; an inventiveness and intellectual energy that will change our understanding of language – and literature – forever.