Prof. James Shapiro: Manifest Destiny (1845)

In our fascinating season three opener, Peter talks to Professor James Shapiro, one of the world’s leading scholars of the life and work of William Shakespeare. He tells Peter about the origin of the concept of 'Manifest Destiny'. He takes us to meet a young Ulysses S. Grant, and he evokes the life of the greatest Romeo of the age: Charlotte Cushman. The year is 1845.

For much more information about this episode, including images of the people and places involved, head to our website,

The conversation in this podcast revolves around James Shapiro's most recent book,  Shakespeare in a Divided America. It is available now from Faber in the UK and Penguin Press in the USA.


Show notes:


Scene One: August, 1845.  John O’Sullivan, in an essay called “Annexation” introduces the phrase “Manifest Destiny” into the American vocabulary, capturing America’s shift from republic to empire, the repercussions of which are being felt to this day.

Scene Two: November, 1845.  Corpus Christi, Texas. Four thousand US troops are awaiting orders in Corpus Christi, Texas to cross the Rio Grande and invade Mexico. 

Scene Three: December 1845.  In a revealing act of cross-dressing that speaks to the anxieties about manliness at the time, the star American actress Charlotte Cushman debuts as Romeo - a role that no man at the time was able to perform successfully - at London’s Haymarket Theatre. 

Memento: A recording of Ulysses S. Grant speaking Desdomona’s lines in Othello:


Presenter: Peter Moore

Guest: Professor James Shapiro

Producers: Maria Nolan

Titles: Jon O


Check out the amazing colourised images made by our podcast partner, ColorGraph!