One of the world's foremost scholars on the English Renaissance lectured March 2 at the University of Utah for a series established in honor of President Gordon B. Hinckley.
Stephen Greenblatt, professor of the humanities at Harvard University and author of Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare, spoke to the topic "Shakespearean Beauty Marks." In his presentation, he explored different conceptions of beauty in the Renaissance period and how Shakespeare engaged with them.
Earlier in the day, Professor Greenblatt met with President Hinckley in the Church Administration Building, where their discussion focused primarily upon the study of humanities and the role and contributions of elements of the arts, such as great literature.
After that meeting, President Hinckley said he thought the study of humanities "gives an aspect of living that is essential. You need technology. You need the professions. You need all of those things, but we need the heart also, and the humanities speak to the heart, men's aspirations for the good and the beautiful."
At the lecture that evening, attended by all of President Hinckley's sons and daughters and other family members, Professor Greenblatt began by thanking President Hinckley and the family for their kindness to him and their generous support of the humanities.
Using slides of paintings by Leonardo and Bronzino, he illustrated the important Renaissance notion of beauty as embodying wholeness, completion and harmony a kind of "featureless" beauty defined by the overall effect of the object.
According to Professor Greenblatt, Shakespeare incorporated this concept of beauty into much of his work, but the playwright also evolved a different aesthetic in which he came to value the uniqueness of individuals and their distinguishing marks, such as the wrinkles that come with increasing age.
In the later plays, Professor Greenblatt suggested, Shakespeare increasingly finds beauty not in mere appearance and abstract standards of the beautiful, but in the abundance and integrity of the individual human life. The traces and signs left by experience in the individual human face, he said, become for Shakespeare the marks of beauty, as in the representation of Queen Hermione in the final scene of "The Winter's Tale."
The Gordon B. Hinckley Endowment for British Studies was formed in 1999 to offer university students an innovative curriculum of British history, literature, culture and politics. Funds from the endowment are used to send University of Utah students to Great Britain and countries once part of the British Commonwealth for study. Scholars such as Professor Greenblatt are brought to campus to give lectures.
As a young man, President Hinckley served a full-time mission to the British Isles and has demonstrated his familiarity with English literature and has commented on the essential nature of British history in understanding American history and the history of mankind in general.
For more information about the endowment, please call Mark Matheson, associate director of the Gordon B. Hinckley Endowment for British Studies, (801)581-3677, or e-mail: [email protected]