William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of English and of Visual and Environmental Studies Harvard University
The Use and Abuse of Literature
Drawing upon the work of anthropologists, psychologists, and sociologists, Marjorie Garber examines rites of passage and maturation patterns – “coming of age” – in Shakespeare’s plays. Citing examples from virtually the entire Shakespearean canon, she pays particular attention to the way his characters grow and change at points of personal crisis. She suggests a series of transitional or “threshold” moments in the lives of dramatic characters that mark or mirror their development in self-awareness and understanding of human nature.
Among the life crises she discusses are: separation from parent and sibling in preparation for sexual love and the choice of a husband, wife, or partner; the use of names and nicknames as a sign of individual exploits or status; the learning of a new language or a new way of speaking; virginity, sexual initiation and the acceptance of mature sexuality, childbearing and parenthood; comparing and contrasting oneself with parents and rivals; and, finally, attitudes to death and dying.
In this fascinating and original analysis, Garber explores the ways in which the Shakespearean protagonist is challenged to change as his or her circumstances change – to adapt to the world and to other people, and to come to terms with the nature and finitude of the human condition.
Coming of Age in Shakespeare
“Combining the insights of modern anthropological and psychological thought with a wonderfully patient and playful and reading of virtually the entire Shakespeare canon, Coming of Age in Shakespeare uncovers the plays’ sustained and sustaining interest in the processes of human maturation. Lively, capacious, original and abidingly humane, the book has a appropriatley become a landmark of Shakespeare criticism itself coming of age.”
– David Scott Kastan, Columbia University
“This timely reissue of Marjorie Garber wonderful, provocative Coming of Age in Shakespeare will make available once again her influencial study of the ways in which Shakespeare’s plays negotiate dramatically between individuals and society. Entwining anthropological theory with close analysis of the plays, Garber’s work marked an important rethinking of the legacy of Turner, Van Gennep, Eliade, and others, a rethinking especially valuable now in the context of current theoretical and historical retheorizings of the relations between ritual and drama. This immensely readable, rich and insightful book – an example of literary criticism at its best – deepens our understanding of how individual identities are forged in marginalized or threshold experiences and sharpens our understanding of many of the plays’ most troubling moments. It should be of great interest to Shakespeareans, to students of drama and performance studies, and to the wider readership of Garber’s more recent essays in cultural studies.”
– Suzanne Wofford, University of Wisconsin, Madison