'Shakespeare Fights The Civil War' is theme of 2021 Brose Distinguished Lectures

October 05, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – "Shakespeare Fights the Civil War" will be the theme of three virtual lectures delivered by accomplished historian Sarah E. Gardner as part of this year's Steven and Janice Brose Distinguished Lecture Series, which will take place Oct. 14-16 via Zoom. 

Gardner is a Distinguished University Professor of History at Mercer University whose research focuses on the cultural and intellectual history of the Civil War era through the early decades of the 20th century. She is the author of "Blood and Irony: Southern White Women’s Narratives of the Civil War, 1861-1937" and "Reviewing the South: The Literary Marketplace and the Southern Renaissance, 1920-1941." She also recently co-edited "The Lost Lectures of C. Vann Woodward" with Natalie J. Ring; and "Insiders, Outsiders: Toward a New History of Southern Thought" with Steven M. Stowe.

Gardner's three upcoming Brose lectures will shed light on how warring parties turned to the works of William Shakespeare to understand the Civil War and engage in America’s deadliest conflict. Shakespeare spoke to the cultural and political moment like no other figure, Gardner contends — "Macbeth" and "Julius Caesar" had something to say about tyranny; "The Tempest" and "Richard II" offered a meditation on usurpation; and "Henry V" and "Richard III"  told of war and its effects on those who waged it. 

Shakespeare's works also played a critical role in the nationalist strivings of both the Union and the Confederacy, said Gardner. Just as each party posited itself as the rightful inheritor of the Founding Fathers’ vision, both harkened back to Shakespeare in a similar fashion and for similar reasons. Civil War-era Americans also believed that Shakespeare spoke to abiding concerns, such as the soul of genius, the power of the imagination and of the heroic individual’s ability to determine an event’s outcome. By elucidating how Unionists and Confederates interpreted Shakespeare and, in turn, how Shakespeare shaped their understanding of war, these lectures reveal how the war’s participants turned to Shakespeare's works to articulate and justify what they thought and felt about the war and its attendant consequences.

The schedule for this year's Brose Lectures is as follows:

  • Thursday, Oct. 14, 5:30 p.m.: "Political Speech and the Rhetoric of War"
  • Friday, Oct. 15, 5:30 p.m.: "Shakespeare at War"
  • Saturday, Oct. 16, 4 p.m.: "National Identity and Cultural Affinity"

All three virtual lectures are free and open to the public; however, the total number of attendees for each lecture will be limited. Those interested in attending should click here to register and select which lectures they plan to attend. Individuals will then receive a Zoom link the morning of each lecture for which they have registered.

The Brose Distinguished Lecture Series is offered by the George and Ann Richards Civil War Era Center at Penn State through the generosity of an endowment created by Steven and Janice Brose. For more information, contact the Richards Center at 814-863-0151 or visit its website.

  • Sarah Gardner

    Sarah E. Gardner, Distinguished University Professor of History at Mercer University, will deliver the 2021 Brose Distinguished Lectures virtually Oct. 14-16.

    IMAGE: Photo Provided
Last Updated October 06, 2021