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Riggs, David 1941–

Riggs, David 1941–

(David Ramsey Riggs)

PERSONAL: Born July 4, 1941, in Cincinnati, OH; son of David Ramsey (in business) and Margaret (a homemaker; maiden name, Fuller) Riggs; married Susan Frances St. Clair Thompson, August 8, 1964; children: Elaine, Matthew. Education: Harvard University, B.A., 1963, Ph.D., 1968. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Episcopal.

ADDRESSES: Home—878 Tolman Dr., Stanford, CA 94305. Office—Department of English, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305.

CAREER: Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, instructor in English, 1969; Stanford University, Stanford, CA, assistant professor, 1969–76, associate professor, 1976–85, professor of English, 1985–. Board chair of Stanford Canterbury Foundation.

MEMBER: Modern Language Association, Shakespeare Association of America.

AWARDS, HONORS: Grants from the Arnold and Lois L. Graves Foundation, the Stanford Humanities Center, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities; research awards from the American Council of Learned Societies and the American Philosophical Society.


Shakespeare's Heroical Histories: Henry VI and Its Literary Tradition, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1971.

Ben Jonson: A Life, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1989.

The World of Christopher Marlowe, Faber and Faber (London, England), 2004, Holt (New York, NY), 2005.

SIDELIGHTS: English professor David Riggs is the author of several books about the literature and authors of Shakespearean times. In Ben Jonson: A Life, he chronicles the private and public life of Shakespearean contemporary Ben Jonson, shedding light on the many contradictions that made up the violently tempered though artistically disciplined author. A seventeenth-century English playwright and poet, Jonson strove for ascetic perfection in his writing while he openly lived a socially rebellious life, at times filled with drunkenness and imprisonment (once for murder). Recognized as psychobiographical, Ben Jonson probes the issue of the extent to which an artist's work imitates his life; for example, Riggs asserts that the inspiration for Jonson's tragedies was his own personal pitfalls. This approach drew criticism from reviewer David Bevington, who commented in the New York Times Book Review that psychoanalyzing Jonson can lead to "reductive speculation." Riggs's biography was praised, however, for providing enlightening details on the life of an important writer who earned a position as the chief producer of masques and plays for the court of England's King James I and whose works influenced such later poets as W.H. Auden and T.S. Eliot. "By revealing the human beneath that erudite surface," concluded Caryn James in the New York Times, "Mr. Riggs makes Jonson's work more accessible."

Riggs followed Ben Jonson with The World of Christopher Marlowe, another biography of an Elizabethan-era writer. Marlowe became a star playwright at the age of twenty-three, when his play Tamburlaine was produced, but his career ended abruptly six years later when he was killed in a bar fight. Theories about whether this was a simple fight or a murder have long abounded; as a spy who was deeply involved in the political-religious conflicts of Elizabethan times, Marlowe certainly had many enemies. Riggs argues for the latter interpretation, seeking to prove that Queen Elizabeth's government thought that Marlowe was a dangerous inciter of sedition who had to be silenced. Riggs had little first-hand information to draw on when writing about Marlowe's personal life, but, according to Spectator reviewer Jonathan Bate, he "adopts exactly the right approach, skillfully weaving the fragmentary biographical record into the broader intellectual context." Indeed, the educational system and intellectual atmosphere of Marlowe's day are major subjects of the book, and the chapters dealing with these subjects "are small masterpieces of historical scholarship," Daniel Swift wrote in the Nation. "There is today no finer guide to Marlowe's world than David Riggs."

Riggs told CA: "As a biographer, I am mainly interested in the emergence of authorship as a distinctive vocation during the Renaissance."



Booklist, January 1, 2005, Ray Olson, review of The World of Christopher Marlowe, p. 802.

Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 2004, review of The World of Christopher Marlowe, p. 996.

Library Journal, January 1, 2005, William D. Walsh, review of The World of Christopher Marlowe, p. 112.

Nation, March 21, 2005, Daniel Swift, "The Man Who Wasn't There," p. 27.

New York Times, February 25, 1989, Caryn James, review of Ben Jonson: A Life, p. 18.

New York Times Book Review, March 19, 1989, David Bevington, review of Ben Jonson.

Publishers Weekly, October 25, 2004, review of The World of Christopher Marlowe, p. 34.

Spectator, May 15, 2004, Jonathan Bate, "The Cloak-and-Dagger Poet," p. 62.


Stanford University Department of English Web site, (April 13, 2006), "David Riggs, Professor."

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