The Neo-Latin reading group continued its exploration of early modern poetry and prose, beginning with Thomas More’s Coronation Elegy for Henry VIII. This poem presents Henry’s accession as a deliverance from the evils flourishing under his father, and raises questions as to how its first readers understood its expectations of monarchy. Stephen Harrison pointed to Ovid’s Tristia 4.2 as a close thematic and metrical parallel, and advanced other Latin analogues to question the ironic reading recently outlined by David Rundle (whose Renaissance blog is here). If Milton’s Latin poetry has been neglected, it is partly because of the difficulty of catching in translation an idiom whose playfulness, Gordon Teskey has argued, does not square with normal images of the austere Puritan. Professor Teskey, visiting this term from Harvard, has contributed a preface to an excellent collection if verse translations by David Slavitt. His presentation  for the reading group centred on Mansus, with special reference to the conclusion, where Milton imagines himself looking down from heaven and applauding his own poetic deeds. Professor Teskey offered a fascinating interpretation of this vexed passage – so vexed indeed that it is often omitted in translations – and is modified by Slavitt. Returning to our series of Selden events, Nick Hardy explored John Selden’s Uxor Ebraica, a work which ‘was much more than an intervention in contemporary debates: it was a kaleidoscopic work of late humanist erudition which blended historical and literary sources, moving with ease between Roman law and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and quoting from the full range of texts regarded in the seventeenth century as classical: Greek, Latin, Hebrew, and even Arabic’. In a challenging overview of early modern intellectual history, Per Landgren (visiting from Göteborg University, Sweden) introduced ‘the Aristotelian concept of historia in the late Renaissance’, emphasizing how widely the term’s neo-Latin usage differed from what we would now describe as history, and the overlap with Aristotelian ‘natural history’.

The Early Modern Literature Graduate Seminar explored different aspects of representation in early modern drama. In the light of his research on early modern writing on memory and the ars memoriae, Rhodri Lewis reconsidered Hamlet’s second soliloquy,  in which he first responds to the revelations of Claudius’ treachery, within the reconstructed contexts of it pays particular attention to Hamlet’s claim that his memory can be subject to erasure at his will. Rather than losing his focus on revenge at some point in the middle of the play (on account of moral, philosophical, psychological, religious or juridical scruples), Lewis argued, from the moment the revenge plot is set in motion, Hamlet struggles against the very lack of vividness with which his filial duties exist in his mind. Gordon Teskey (Harvard) asked ‘What is Comus?’, drawing attention to the problematic status of a masque as between historical event and poetic creation, and offering an acute though friendly challenge to contemporary historicist criticism of Milton. David Bevington (University of Chicago) offered challenges of a different kind to much current work on ‘Shakespeare on Religion’, highlighting the resistance of the plays to confessional paradigms of all kinds; Professor Bevington showed his command of the whole Shakespearean canon, and discussion ranged from John Shakespeare’s will to the recent discovery of a Jane Shaxspere who had drowned while picking flowers in the Stratford area.