Lincoln, Shakespeare, and Death

Introduction by Erin Carlson Mast
Contributed by Trevor Parry-Giles

At the end of the day, our mission is not only to preserve and interpret President Lincoln’s seasonal retreat to the public, but to reveal new information about Lincoln’s ideas and actions, especially in this place. Our goal is to encourage critical thinking and dialogue amongst our staff and visitors, during and after the tour.

This week we received an email from a recent visitor,  Trevor Parry-Giles, who reflected on the tour and offered personal insight and suggested readings for further exploration.  With his permission, an excerpt of that email follows:

I recently visited the Lincoln Cottage when you provided us with a fascinating tour of the site. Your tour was great, but as I was listening to you speak, it occurred to me that there were some possible readings that might help to understand Lincoln in a couple of areas.

I was struck by your interest in Lincoln’s frequent use of Shakespeare. Not long ago, I taught a course that addressed the history and development of popular culture in the U.S. and one of the readings was an excerpt from Lawrence Levine’s Highbrow/Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988). It’s a very interesting book that discusses the penetration of Shakespeare’s plays into the American collective consciousness in the early and mid parts of the 19th century. His insights might give some context to Lincoln’s preoccupation with the bard and his plays/words.

Though I haven’t read it yet, your discussion of Lincoln’s preoccupation with death and his visits to the nearby National Cemetery reminded me of Drew Gilpin Faust’s new book called The Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War. The reviews of this work suggest that it offers some real telling examinations of the changes in American rituals and philosophies of death because of the Civil War. Your tour motivated me to procure Faust’s book.

Thank you again for your tour and for your work on preserving this important landmark.

Ms. Erin Mast is Curator at President Lincoln’s Cottage.
Special thanks to Assoc. Professor Trevor Parry-Giles, Dept. of Communication, Univ. of Maryland, for allowing us to publish his letter.
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