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NZD Annual Lecture Series | Stephen Greenblatt: Reports from a Besieged City | Lecture 1: Siege Stories

Stephen Greenblatt headshot
Thursday, June 9, 2022, 5:40 pm – 7:20 pm

2022 Natalie Zemon Davis Annual Lecture Series (June 9, June 17, June 20)

Stephen Greenblatt, Cogan University Professor of the Humanities at Harvard, is the author of fourteen books, including the Tyrant: Shakespeare on Power; The Swerve: How the World Became Modern; and Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare. His honors include the Holberg Prize, the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the Mellon Distinguished Humanist Award.

Reports from a Besieged City

Throughout much of history, siege warfare was a principal form of encounter between enemies, and, to our horror, recent events have returned it to the forefront of our consciousness.  Its all-too-familiar features include a gathering menace, a retreat inside protective walls, desperate sallying forth, the calling in of allies, the launching of missiles, boredom, disease, and growing rage among the besiegers, hunger and internal dissension among the besieged, and the wholesale massacre of civilians.  The military encounter was very early extended symbolically to a wide range of experiences, from sinful temptation, to seduction, to internal conflict, to spiritual struggle, to the attempt to evade persecution and censorship, to epidemic disease. My concern in these lectures is with the production of literature in and about such conditions.  And hovering behind this concern is another one: is it possible not only to survive siege but also to escape from the siege mentality altogether?  And can literature play a part in this escape?

Lecture 1 (June 9): Siege Stories

An introduction to some siege literature, via an extended reading of Zbigniew Herbert’s 1982 poem, “Report from a Besieged City,” which provides the overarching title of these three lectures.  Texts include Daniel Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year, a sonnet by John Milton, passages from Deuteronomy and Ezekiel, and Jean de Léry’s Histoire Memorable de la Ville de Sancerre.

This lecture is online-only.

Zoom link:

Meeting ID: 988 6589 7581
Passcode: 991716