Stephen Greenblatt

Stephen Greenblatt

Lila Wallace Reader’s Digest Harvard Visiting Professor
Marlowe's Suddenness
2023-2024 (March - April)
Stephen Greenblatt


Stephen Greenblatt, Cogan University Professor at Harvard, specializes in Renaissance literature, especially Shakespeare. The author of 15 books, his current interests include classical reception, siege warfare, ego-documents, and psychoanalysis.

Project Summary

At the time of his murder, at the age of 29, Christopher Marlowe was the greatest writer of Elizabethan England. In a country that had recently built the first free-standing theaters since the Roman Empire, he had written, among other plays, the spectacularly successful Tamburlaine, The Jew of Malta, Edward II, and Doctor Faustus. (His exact contemporary William Shakespeare at that point had co-authored Titus Andronicus and the three parts of Henry VI.). In a culture devoted to recovering the ancient classics, he was the first English translator of Ovid’s erotic poems, The Amores, poems deemed so scandalous that the authorities ordered all copies of his translation to be burned. In a literary environment that produced splendid lyrics, he was the author of the lyric poem most widely celebrated by his contemporaries– “Come live with me and be my love” – a song whose words were ceaselessly memorized and imitated and parodied. And in an age of wonderful love poems, he was the author of the most wonderful love poem of them all, Hero and Leander. This marvelous mini-epic, now largely neglected, has entered our collective consciousness through one of its many unforgettable lines: “Whoever loved that loved not at first sight?” How did this remarkably sudden achievement come about? The project attempts to answer this question, with a particular focus on the influence of what may be called “the Italy of the mind,” that is, the radically unsettling intellectual and cultural influence of the Italian Renaissance.