Author Peter G. Platt in conversation with Philippa Kelly, Dramaturg, California Shakespeare Theatre, cosponsored by California Shakespeare Theatre

In this revisionist study, Peter G. Platt provides a detailed history of the literary-critical interest in the Florio’s Montaigne–Shakespeare connection from the eighteenth century to the present day. Through sustained close-readings of Florio’s translation of Montaigne’s essays and Shakespeare’s plays, Platt explores both authors’ approaches to self, knowledge and form that stress fractures, interruptions and alternatives. While the change in monarchy, the revived interest in judicial rhetoric and the alterations in Shakespeare’s acting company helped shape plays such as Measure for Measure, King Lear and The Tempest, this book contends that Shakespeare’s reading of Montaigne is an under-recognised driving force in these later plays.

When someone asks me who, among all the great writers of the past, would you most want to meet, I always find myself hesitating between Shakespeare and Montaigne. In this scholarly, thoughtful and persuasive book, Peter Platt brings the two Renaissance giants together in a richly illuminating conversation. Making good on Nietzsche’s claim that Shakespeare was Montaigne’s “best reader,” Platt shows that the whole second half of Shakespeare’s career, from the problem comedies to the great tragedies to the late romances, was deeply marked by his encounter with Montaigne’s Essays.

– Stephen Greenblatt, author of Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare

shakespeare montaigne florio
John Florio’s translation of Montaigne’s Essays is regarded as the most important Elizabethan translations in prose.

“It was Nietzsche who in 1876 declared that Shakespeare was Montaigne’s “best reader”; but we’ve had to wait for Peter Platt’s Shakespeare’s Essays to show in all its complexity how and why this was so. Platt brilliantly illuminates Shakespeare debt to Florio’s translation of Montaigne, revealing how profoundly the Essays would shape his thinking from Hamlet to The Tempest. This is a deeply rewarding and insightful book, the product of sustained reflection, one that enables us to see afresh how the greatest Renaissance dramatist was challenged and inspired by the greatest essayist of the age.

– James Shapiro, author of 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare

Thursday, April 22, 2021 – 5:30pm



Peter G. Platt is Ann Whitney Olin Professor and Chair of English at Barnard College. He is the author of Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox and Reason Diminished: Shakespeare and the Marvelous, and the editor of Wonders, Marvels, and Monsters in Early Modern Culture. He has written articles about Shakespeare, Renaissance poetics, and rhetoric. Shakespeare’s Montaigne, an edition of selections from John Florio’s 1603 translation of Montaigne’s Essays, was co-edited with Stephen Greenblatt.
Philippa Kelly (PhD Shakespeare) is Resident Dramaturg for the California Shakespeare Theater. She has published 11 books and 98 articles , her latest edited book being Diversity, Inclusion and Representation in Contemporary Dramaturgy: Case Studies From the Field. She is proud to lead a year-round community theater group entitled Berkeley Theater Explorations, the purpose of which is to make dramaturgy foundational to community theater appreciation – in other words, to make theater-going an active practice rather than a passive form of consumption.
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Giovanni Florio, known as John Florio, is recognised as the most important humanist in Renaissance's England.

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