Shakespeare's Birthday Lecture: "What Mamillius Knew: Ceremonies of Initiation in The Winter's Tale"

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This article is about the annual Shakespeare Birthday lecture. View the full list of all Shakespeare Birthday Lectures to date here. 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 Sarah Beckwith on April 16, 2012.

Shakespeare’s late great play, The Winter’s Tale, provides us with one of the most fascinating portraits of childhood in the entire theatrical tradition: Prince Mamillius. The young son of Hermione and King Leontes, Mamillius gives the play its title as he jests with his mother and her court just before the play’s tragic turn: “A sad tale’s best for winter: I have one of sprites and goblins.” Caught in the force field of his parents’ desire, he haunts the play even after his death. Focused on Mamillius, this lecture deals with questions of initiation, inheritance, learning at the hands of a skeptic, innocence and doubt.

Transcript of the Lecture

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Lecturer: Dr. Sarah Beckwith, Professor of English at Duke University, works on late medieval religious writing, medieval and early modern drama, and ordinary language philosophy. Her most recent book is Shakespeare and the Grammar of Forgiveness (2011). She is currently working on a book about Shakespearean tragedy and philosophy’s love affair with the genre of tragedy.