Lecturer joins debate on Shakespeare’s ‘life’ at Globe

Professor Brian Cummings

He is celebrated as one of the greatest writers that ever lived, but the question “who was Shakespeare?” continues to fascinate leading scholars such as University of Sussex Professor of English Brian Cummings.

To mark this most tantalising of literary conundrums, and the 300th anniversary of the first ‘biography’ of Shakespeare by Nicholas Rowe, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London organised a one-day symposium of leading Shakespeare scholars on Saturday (28 November).

The symposium – Shakespeare: From Rowe to Shapiro – saw discussions on the function and critical value of Shakespeare biographies.

Professor Cummings, currently analysing the Bard's greatest works to find out how religion is represented in his fictional dramas, was one of the 11 scholars (including Stanley Wells and James Shapiro) invited to give a talk. His lecture, entitled ‘Anti-Biography’, highlighted the problems of trying to construct a biography of Shakespeare’s life through his work.

Professor Cummings says: “Biography is the serpent in the garden of Shakespeareanism, a constant source of temptation and frustration. The documentary records of his life are few and far between, and notoriously difficult to interpret.”

The event, organised by the Globe’s Education Department, was open to the general public and was well received, says Professor Cummings. He says: “We discussed how easy it is to misread Shakespeare’s works in the light of a supposed 'auto-biographical' context, especially in the Sonnets, and whether biography tells us more about ourselves and what we are looking for in a writer rather than what the writer originally was like.

“The day showed there was plenty more to discuss, but that an answer to the central mystery 'who was Shakespeare?' is still as far off as ever.

Notes for Editors


Professor Brian Cummings is Professor of English at the University of Sussex. He currently holds a Leverhulme Trust Major Research Fellowship to study what is described as he last great mystery of Shakespeare studies – the Bard’s religious views and beliefs. See: The Confessions of Shakespeare Other research covers many aspects of early modern English literature, history of the Reformation, heresy, the English Bible and Book of Common Prayer, humanism and the European Renaissance.

Listen to the Today programme discussion about the event

For further information, contact the University of Sussex Press office. Tel: 01273 678 888 or email press@sussex.ac.uk


Last updated: Friday, 4 December 2009