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Duke professor discusses the importance of being human

TAMPA, Fla. -- On Monday, April 6, USF’s Humanities Institute, in collaboration with the Department of English, hosted a talk by Sarah Beckwith, the Katherine Everitt Gilbert Professor of English, Theatre Studies and Religious Studies at Duke University. Beckwith spoke about Shakespeare and the importance of being human in this year’s installment of the institute’s annual Shakespeare series.

In her talk, “Shakespeare, Tragedy and Possessing Language,” Beckwith discussed Macbeth's ultimately unsuccessful attempts to dehumanize himself through his actions, thus showing how Shakespeare cherishes what it means to be human.

Grounding her analysis upon the linguistic philosophies of Ludwig Wittgenstein and Stanley Cavell, Beckwith explored the relationships and differences between remorse and shame, historical loss and philosophical loss, and recognition and empathy.

By tying her discussion to political, institutional and public discourse, Beckwith showed how Shakespeare and, more broadly, literature can help remedy current tendencies of avoiding talk of “the human” and revive the value of the humanities in an increasingly corporatized view of the university. After the talk, Beckwith signed copies of her book, “Shakespeare and the Grammar of Forgiveness,” and spoke with attendees.

The event drew a large and diverse audience, attesting to the timeliness and relevance of Beckwith’s current scholarship and to continued interest in Shakespeare studies. Jay Zysk, who helped coordinate the event, said, “the Annual Shakespeare Lecture not only enables us to bring first-rate Shakespeareans of international repute to USF but also marks USF’s participation in a global network of events marking two important milestones: the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth (2014) and the 400th anniversary of his death (2016). What is more, our first two lectures have drawn sizable crowds and have stirred up significant conversation among students and faculty, which is visible proof of why Shakespeare—and the humanities in general—very much matter.”

As a Ph.D. student in literature, I was grateful for the opportunity to meet an important scholar in the field and one whose work is so foundational to my own. Beckwith was warm and polite during the post-talk reception. She was genuinely interested in meeting students and even offered me and some of my colleagues invaluable suggestions for our research.

I hope that through the annual Shakespeare series we can continue to support the university’s efforts to host renowned scholars, engage in globally relevant conversations and provide students with important professionalization opportunities.

Rachel Tanski is a Ph.D. student in English Literature. She can be reached at


Filed under:English Humanities and Cultural Studies Arts and Sciences   
Author:Rachel Tanski