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Shakespeare and the End of Life History Stephen Greenblatt The Tanner Lectures on Human Values Delivered at Princeton University March 14–15, 2012 Stephen Greenblatt is Cogan University Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University. He is the author of twelve books, including The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, Shakespeare’s Freedom, Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare, Hamlet in Purgatory , Marvelous Possessions, and Renaissance Self-Fashioning. He is general editor of The Norton Anthology of English Literature and of The Norton Shakespeare, has edited seven collections of criticism, and is a founding editor of the journal Representations. His honors include the 2012 Pulitzer Prize and the 2011 National Book Award for The Swerve, MLA’s James Russell Lowell Prize (twice), Harvard University’s Cabot Fellowship , the Distinguished Humanist Award from the Mellon Foundation, Yale’s Wilbur Cross Medal, the William Shakespeare Award for Classical Theatre, the Erasmus Institute Prize, two Guggenheim Fellowships, and the Distinguished Teaching Award from the University of California , Berkeley. Among his named lecture series are the Adorno Lectures in Frankfurt, the University Lectures at Princeton, and the Clarendon Lectures at Oxford, and he has held visiting professorships at universities in Beijing, Kyoto, London, Paris, Florence, Torino, Trieste, and Bologna, as well as the Renaissance residency at the American Academy in Rome. He was president of the Modern Language Association of America and is a permanent fellow of the Institute for Advanced Study in Berlin. He has been elected to membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences , the American Academy of Letters, and the American Philosophical Society. [69] What is the shape of a life, that is, a life that has a history? Haunting Shakespeare throughout his career, this question is a central concern as well for contemporary evolutionary biology, which is attempting to provide a set of definitive answers, and not for our species alone. The human life cycle is only one very small part of the larger enterprise, which has paid notable attention to such species as dandelions and cattails, parasitoid wasps, flour beetles, side-blotched lizards, salamanders, iguanas, mosquito fish, and Pacific sardines, along with a wide range of mammals, including our great ape cousins. At its core, in keeping with the overall discipline, the account of life history offered by evolutionary biology has a radically simplified focus on the struggle for reproduction. Reproductive fitness is all. The principal variables in the pursuit of fitness—the recurrent traits in the life histories that the biologists study—are size at birth; growth rates; ageandsizeatsexualmaturity;thenumber,size,andsexratioofoffspring; age- and size-specific reproductive investments; and length of life. The traits are all quantifiable, which makes them suitable objects of scientific attention, and, as the language of investments suggests, the model bears a striking affinity with Adam Smith. The theory governing the overarching research project is a theory of trade-offs: trade-offs between survival and reproduction, between reproduction now and reproduction in the future, between the size and the number of offspring, and between both of these and their sex. Each trait or event in the life history of a species is constrained by varying material conditions, by a network of competitive and cooperative relationships, and by the individual fitness that determines the larger pattern of natural selection. A scientific understanding of this pattern entails a vast effort of data collection and analysis, from which researchers surface occasionally to sketch the norms and still more occasionally to evoke the individual experiences in trees or wasps or fish of the process they are attempting to understand. Here, for example, is Stephen Stearns, probably the principal figure in what is called life-history theory, conjuring up one such individual: In a forest just south of the Rhine, old and dense with oak and beech, a tree falls in an equinoctial storm. A beech seed germinates in the clearing left by the falling tree. It grows rapidly, escapes the attention of slugs during its first summer, overtops the competing grasses and shrubs, and pushes its crown into the narrowing circle of sky overhead. The Tanner Lectures on Human Values 70 As its branches near the canopy, it begins to flower. It is 50 years old. Its growth then decelerates until, at more than 200 years of age, when it is two metres thick at breast height and fifty metres tall, further growth is no longer measurable. Every few years, it flowers heavily and sets abundant seed. Much is eaten by flocks of wintering...


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