Early Modern Literature Graduate Seminar, Michaelmas Term 2010

December 8, 2010

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.


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