The Enright Files on William Shakespeare & James Joyce

There were two momentous anniversaries in 2016 involving giants of English-language literature -- authors whose work influenced not just the literature that followed in their wake, but the language itself. On this edition of The Enright Files, we mark the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare and the 100th anniversary of James Joyce's great novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
1623, English dramatist, William Shakespeare (1564 - 1616) & James Joyce in Zürich, in 1915. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images & Wikipedia/CC)

There were two momentous anniversaries in 2016 involving giants of English-language literature -- authors whose work influenced not just the literature that followed in their wake, but the language itself. On this edition of The Enright Files, we mark the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare and the 100th anniversary of James Joyce's great novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.



The timeless genius of William Shakespeare

There is no better known writer of English than Shakespeare. No writer with as great a mastery of the language or insight into human nature. And yet very little detail about him has survived across the centuries. 

One of the few things we seem to know is that he died four hundred years ago, on April 23, 1616. We also know he was born into an undistinguished family in April of 1564, that he married Anne Hathaway and had three children with her, and that he wrote plays to pay the bills.

We know those plays intimately as a culture, whether we've personally read them or not. Shakespeare has done more to inform human life than anyone else in secular history.

On the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death, Stratford Festival veterans Colm Feore and Seana McKenna talked to Michael Enright to describe what Shakespeare demands of his actors; how his characters embody the essential qualities of humanity, and why despite the barrier of Elizabethan language, Shakespeare in the 21st century is more relevant than ever.



Celebrating James Joyce and his novel "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man"

One of James Joyce's biographers, Gordon Bowker wrote that Joyce "loved his father yet reacted against his tyranny; he loved his mother but spurned her intense Catholicism; he loved Ireland but not its romanticization; he grew up an Irish nationalist but rejected the Ireland that nationalism created; he loved the English language yet attempted to reshape and reinvent it; he grew up hostile to Britain but had a lingering attachment to it."

Those contradictions are at the heart of Joyce's fiction, which never strayed far from the people and the places of his life. His family, his friends, his acquaintances, his haunts and his entire hometown of Dublin were the inspiration -- not always well-disguised -- for the stories and characters of Dubliners, A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man and Ulysses. The River Liffey runs through Finnegans Wake as it does through Dublin. 

One hundred years ago -- on December 29, 1916 -- James Joyce published his first novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. It's true that the book only hinted at the pyrotechnics that would follow with Ulysses and Finnegans Wake -- novels that struck the English language like a mischievous bolt of lightning. But it shook the ground under Dubliners' feet in other ways.

With A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man Joyce shook off the stultifying kind of Catholicism that he found so oppressive. His alter ego and protagonist, Stephen Dedalus, rejects servitude to the Church, to Irish nationalism and anything else that might constrain his project of creating his own boundless artistic consciousness. 

It was not a position that sat well with many Irish. For decades, Joyce did not enjoy the exalted status in his own country that he had elsewhere in the world. 

Michael Enright talks to Irish politician and Joyce scholar Senator David Norris, Irish cultural historian and Joyce scholar Declan Kiberd, and Canadian professor of literature and Joyce scholar Jennifer Levine.

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