Friday November 5th (4th Week)

This year’s forum began with a lively discussion of Cultural Reformations: Medieval and Renaissance in Literary History, ed. Brian Cummings and James Simpson (Oxford, 2010), which addressed questions of periodisation and the bridge between ‘medieval’ and ‘renaissance’ through readings of the relevant chapters on ‘Anachronism’ and ‘Theatre’.  Margreta de Grazia’s close reading of Lorenzo Valla’s critique of the Donation of Constantine in particular provided a springboard for a collective reevaluation of the modernity of Early Modern print culture and its understanding of the past.

Monday November 8th (5th Week)

The second session of the forum saw a large audience and excellent papers by Nick Hardy, former forum co-convenor (‘”The suffrages of the Criticall Senat“: criticism and philology in Britain, 1609-1657′), and Rachel McPherson (‘Praise, Plot, and Character in Pericles and Cymbeline‘).  Despite widely divergent topics, the two papers interacted in surprising and informative ways that led to a lengthy debate over drinks.

Tuesday November 16th, 6th week

A very well-attended forum heard two papers working in the broadly-defined field of Neo-Latin literature, from two quite different scholars. Alexander Farquhar spoke to the forum on ‘The Poet in Court: Arthur Johnston and the Caignioucle Inheritance’, describing the interactions of legal process and poetic self-fashioning across Johnston’s Ad senatum mechliniensem. Elizabeth Sandis spoke on the student staging of Latin plays across early modern Oxford, looking particularly closely at a 1611 St. John’s College staging of Philip Parsons’ Atalanta.  A large audience ensured a fruitful session of questioning, succeeded by a trip to the King’s Arms for food and drinks.

Thursday December 2nd, 8th week

Papers by Kelsey Jackson Williams (forum co-convenor) and Harriet Archer completed a very well-received term. The theme of absence and loss echoed across both papers. As a scholar of early modern networks of intellectual enquiry, Kelsey spoke to the forum on ‘Gildas’ Poems: John Aubrey, Octavian Pulleyn, and the Search for a Lost Manuscript in Rome’. On hearing Kelsey’s paper, Harriet chose to adjust her intended topic to reflect the themes emerging, delivering an alternative talk on ‘The Medieval in John Higgins’ Mirror for Magistrates’. A highly productive discussion ensued, with Harriet’s interrogation of the medieval nicely rounding off a term which began with a questioning of ‘medieval’ and ‘Renaissance’.

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Early Modern Literature Graduate Seminar, Michaelmas Term 2010

Gordon McMullan (King’s College, London) got the term off to a globally-conscious beginning in a paper intriguingly entitled ‘“I met a hand . . . and, by and by, a single leg running after it”: the Far East and the Limits of Representation in the Theatre, 1621/2002’. The quotation is from John Fletcher’s The Island Princess, a play that is undergoing a revival both critically and in performance. Professor McMullan, who advised Greg Doran for his RSC production, described the extra difficulties involved in contemporary stagings of a play dramatizing Christian-Muslim relations in Indonesia, whose edgy topical relevance can be both illuminating and distorting.

Moving from the global to settings as local as the parish library at Kederminster, Buckinghamshire, Edward Jones (Oklahoma State University) explained how he had gone about building up a remarkable series of discoveries about Milton’s life. Despite the efforts of generations of scholars, these are still being unteased from the archives, but enormous persistence is needed. Despite long hours of work in the Kederminster Library, fully conclusive evidence to show that Milton read there has yet to be found – though in the process Professor Jones has given us a much deeper knowledge of the sources available to him.

In another paper focussing on the problems of interpreting documents, Michelle O’Callaghan (University of Reading) discussed Bodleian MS Rawlinson poetry 31. This includes a very unusual anti-epithalamion, amidst poems by Donne, Jonson and others indicating close contact with courtly circles in the earlier Jacobean period. Should we read this poem in relation to these other poems, several of them also discussing the status of women? How different does literary history look when studied through the overall makeup of manuscripts rather than through discrete poems? The discussion brought out how much work there is still to be done on these questions, and how rich are the Bodleian’s resources for exploring them.

Another manuscript, Cambridge University Library DD 5 75(F), was the immediate focus of the final seminar in the term, ‘“Make me a Poet, and I’ll quickly be a Man”: Children as Poets in Early Modern England’, by Kate Chedgzoy (University of Newcastle). Poems by William Paget and George Berkeley, written between the ages of 9 and 14, introduced larger questions about interpreting texts by children. Professor Chedgzoy, who has worked extensively in gender studies, raised parallels with women’s writing, where interpreters were for a time keen to locate subversion in departing from conventions and are now more interested in agency gained through their control. The children’s poems follow rhetorical paradigms earnestly but with a moments of whimsical excess.

As a follow-up to the recent Selden conference, Thomas Roebuck introduced John Selden’s address to the reader in his Jani Anglorum facies altera (1610) to the Neo-Latin Reading Group (2 December). Selden’s early Latin prose has often been described as over-mannered, and the group agreed that this piece of writing is indeed difficult and challenges its readers. It is remarkable for combining intense verbal playfulness and allusiveness with an aggressive attack on those whose love of verbal elegance blinded them to the importance of the roughly written medieval documents he was examining. Roebuck demonstrated different ways in which Selden’s style in this preface was calculated to appeal to the international ‘late humanist’ scholarly community he was addressing.

Thomas Watson (1556-92) is known as a minor Elizabethan sonnetteer, but his Latin writings, as Tania Demetriou explained to the neo-Latin reading group, opened up further and sometimes surprising aspects. Watson was as familiar as could be with the conventions of frustrated Petrarchan love, having translated the Canzoniere into Latin, but his last major work, the  Amintae Gaudia, inverted the Petrarchan sequence of love and lament: the collection was a ‘prequel’ to his widely-read Amyntas, where the eponymous shepherd mourned his Phyllis. The Gaudia describes the progress of love in a witty, self-conscious style strongly reminiscent of the Hero and Leander of Christopher Marlowe – who indeed wrote the dedication to the Countess of Pembroke when the work was posthumously published. In an ekphrasis on the verge of irreverence, the poet describes a milk-pail depicting the defeat of the Armada, with the sailors transformed into fishes in an imitation of Virgil. Demetriou suggested that such erudite play, conventionally termed ‘Ovidian’, also evoked Greek erudite verse, just as Marlowe imitated Musaeus. (For more on Watson, see Dana F. Sutton’s critical overview.)