Stephen Greenblatt, one of the world’s great Shakespeare scholars, said he has no idea what he’ll do with all the money attached to the Holberg Prize he won last week. The NOK 4.5 million (USD 529,000 at current exchange rates) from the Norwegian government is aimed at furthering research, though, and there are few doubts Greenblatt can put it to good use.
The Holberg Prize is awarded every year to scholars who have made “outstanding contributions” to research in the arts and humanities, social sciences, law or theology. It was established by the Norwegian government in 2003 to honour and encourage such international research, with Greenblatt’s work cited as having had “immeasurable impact on the practices of history, literary studies and cultural criticism, well beyond his own specialist area.”
The Holberg Committee, itself made up of internationally renowned scholars within the prize’s disciplines, recommended Greenblatt as winner to Norway’s Holberg Board because of his “distinctive and influential” voice in the humanities for the past 40 years. Greenblatt, age 73, is the author of 12 books including Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare in addition to being a professor of humanities at Harvard University in the US.
“He has enriched our reading of (Shakespeare’s) plays by showing how the texts both speak of themselves and to their contexts,” the committee noted. Greenblatt is also viewed as a “preeminent scholar” of the Renaissance, and has “energized new thinking about the relationship between the aesthetic and the historical.” Most of all, according to the Holberg Committee, “Stephen Greenblatt has brought life to literature and literature to life in an unprecedented way.”
Greenblatt himself noted that the prize shows the importance of literature and human fantasy in everyone’s lives. Confidence in humanistic studies has increased, he claims, and the Holberg Prize “is a powerful signal” that such studies, in an effort to understand and explain the complexity of our cultural heritage, are “incredibly valuable.”
The prize, administered by the University of Bergen, will be awarded in June in Bergen.