Shakespeare's Birthday Lecture: "Shakespeare and the Language of Possibility"

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This article is about the annual Shakespeare's Birthday Lecture. For other articles about Shakespeare's Birthday, see Shakespeare's Birthday (disambiguation).

For more past programming from the Folger Institute, please see the article Folger Institute scholarly programs archive.

This was a lecture given by Lynne Magnusson on 16 April 2015.

This is a paper 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. Focusing especially on “shall” and “may” in Julius Caesar, this talk explores 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 will explain how these common auxiliary verbs play key roles in dramatic dialogue and in the complex mental deliberation of individual characters.

Listen to the lecture here.

Read the transcript.

Lecturer: Lynne Magnusson is Professor of English at the University of Toronto. She is currently working on a book on The Transformation of the English Letter, 1500–1620, a second book on ways to rethink Shakespeare’s language historically, and an edition of Shakespeare’s Sonnets.