Books interview: Katherine West Scheil

The professor of English at the University of Minnesota talks about her love of mystery and adventure and how this translates to writing about past lives

July 26, 2018
Katherine West Scheil

What sort of books inspired you as a child?

I grew up in Midwest America, so of course I loved all the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. The Nancy Drew series inspired my love of mystery and adventure.

Your new book, Imagining Shakespeare’s Wife, explores how Anne Hathaway has been represented. Which books piqued your interest in the afterlife of Shakespeare and his age?

I read Samuel Schoenbaum’s Shakespeare’s Lives just before I started graduate school, and it is still an inspiration. Michael Dobson’s The Making of the National Poet: Shakespeare, Adaptation and Authorship, 1660-1769 and Gary Taylor’s Reinventing Shakespeare: A Cultural History from the Restoration to the Present Day were among the earliest books I encountered about Shakespeare’s afterlife.

Which books would you recommend as good non-specialist accounts of marriage and gender relations in the Elizabethan era?

David Cressy’s Birth, Marriage and Death: Ritual, Religion, and the Life-Cycle in Tudor and Stuart England and Frances E. Dolan’s Marriage and Violence: The Early Modern Legacy are very readable and compelling accounts.

Which theoretical texts helped you analyse the stereotypes that have grown up around Anne Hathaway?

Graham Holderness’ Nine Lives of William Shakespeare offered a useful reminder of the instability of biographical knowledge, and of the viability of multiple lives that can be created out of the same building blocks. Germaine Greer’s biography of Hathaway (Shakespeare’s Wife) reassesses every aspect of Anne’s life, taking many modern biographers to task. While she often speculates beyond the bounds of believability (as she admits), she nevertheless encourages readers to think outside the box. Michael Dobson and Nicola Watson’s England’s Elizabeth: An Afterlife in Fame and 
Fantasy provided a model for serious analysis of a variety of works, as did Paul Franssen’s Shakespeare’s Literary Lives: The Author as Character in 
Fiction and Film.

What is the last book you gave as a gift, and to whom?

I gave a copy of my colleague Julie Schumacher’s book Dear Committee Members to Michael Dobson, director of the Shakespeare Institute. It’s a very funny account of the intersection of English studies and administration.

What books do you have on your desk waiting to be read?

Robert Sawyer’s Marlowe and Shakespeare: The Critical Rivalry, Emma Depledge and Peter Kirwan’s Canonising Shakespeare: Stationers and the Book Trade, 1640-1740, Mary Sharratt’s The Dark Lady’s Mask: A Novel of Shakespeare’s Muse, Patricia Hampl’s The Art of the Wasted Day, Lissa Evans’ suffragette novel Old Baggage and Agatha Christie’s Crooked House.

Katherine West Scheil is professor of English at the University of Minnesota. Her latest book is Imagining Shakespeare’s Wife: The Afterlife of Anne Hathaway (Cambridge University Press). 

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