Marjorie Garber
William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of English and of Visual and Environmental Studies Harvard University

Coming of Age in Shakespeare

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.