Lynne Magnusson: Shakespeare and the Language of Possibility (2015)
In this free lecture, Professor Lynne Magnusson of the University of Toronto explored how Shakespeare’s language challenged, edited, and reframed early modern conceptions of speech.
This was a lecture about how a set of small words—may, can, will, would, ought, must, shall, should—is used creatively in Shakespeare’s plays to ground situations in potentiality. Focused especially on “shall” and “may” in Julius Caesar, this talk explored how Shakespeare grounds his plots in imagined and contested futures. Brutus reflects that Julius Caesar “would be crowned. / How that might change his nature.” Deliberating his course of action, Brutus is driven by what “Caesar may. / Then lest he may, prevent.” Professor Magnusson explained how these common auxiliary verbs play key roles in dramatic dialogue and in the complex mental deliberation of individual characters.