Dido in Oxford

June 24, 2013

edoxEarly Drama at Oxford (EDOX)  is beginning a systematic study of plays written and/or performed in the Oxford colleges between 1480 and 1650. Exciting events for this year are headed by a unique opportunity to view stagings of two Elizabethan Dido plays, William Gager’s Dido (1583) and Marlowe’s Dido, Queen of Carthage (21 September), and two related conferences, ‘Theatrum Mundi: Latin Drama in Renaissance Europe’ (13-14 September) and ‘Performing Dido: Theatre performances and conference at Christ Church’ (22 September). For further details, see the new EDOX website.


Anne Coldiron (Florida State University) launched this year’s early modern seminar with a paper on ‘The Mediated Medieval and Shakespeare:  Lost Troys, Belly Fables, and the Renaissance Reprint Culture’. Beginning with a stimulating critique of the effect of period divisions on our understanding of the longer term in cultural history, she offered new contexts for Coriolanus. Michael Wyatt (Center for Medieval and Early Modern Studies, Stanford University), speaking on ‘Aretino in Albion: the Scourge of ImagePrinces in Thomas Nashe’s The Unfortunate Traveller’, threw fresh light on images of Henry VIII and on Aretino’s English reception, with intriguing glimpses of Giovanni Francesco Straparola’s story of ‘The Pig King’ in Le piacevoli notti. In ‘George Herbert and the Mind’s Eye’, Sarah Howe (Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge), showed that attentive close readings could refine broader-brush accounts of Protestantism and the visual arts.

In the first seminar this term, Raphael Lyne (University of Cambridge) discussed a project on ‘Attention, Performance, and the Early Modern Stage Ghost’. Performance studies, theatre history and cognitive science are brought together in studying just what an audience actually sees of stage ghosts. Stage deaths figured prominently in the next seminar: in ‘Marlowe’s Massacre at Paris: inside the “royal cabinet'”, Martin Dzelzainis (University of Leicester) offered fresh perspectives on Machiavellianism in Renaissance France and in the Elizabethan theatre. Stephen Greenblatt’s The Swerve: How the Renaissance Began centres on the discovery of Lucretius’ De rerum natura by the humanist Poggio Bracciolini; in a discussion session David Rundle, who is working on a biography of Poggio and an edition of his writings, set The Swerve in a broader historiographical context and noted some of the contemporary issues the book addresses (for more on this session see his blog). In the final seminar, Victoria Moul (King’s College London) presented ‘Some Horatian odes in early modern England’, introducing new manuscript material and offering new Horatian contexts for familiar texts by Marvell and others.

Hilary Term 2012: Welcome

January 11, 2012

This term offers the usual remarkable range of early modern events. Marking ongoing debates about the universities and academic freedom, CEMS continues the series on ‘The Universities in Historical Context’ with presentations by G. R. Evans on ‘Dumbing down?’ Did that happen in early modern universities?’ (26 January) and Robin Briggs on ‘Academic Freedom, past and present’ (1 March). In a new CEMS series, ‘Representing the Early Modern’, Peter Mack (Director, The Warburg Institute), speaks on ‘The Library and Photographic Collection of the Warburg Institute as Research Instruments’ (9 February).

Other seminars with early modern components include the Early Modern Literature Graduate Seminar, the Graduate Seminar in Early Modern Intellectual History: ‘Scientific and Other Mentalities in Early Modern Europe’, the Seminar on the History of the Book 1450-1830, the Seminar in Irish History, and the Enlightenment Workshop. Note also Oxford Bibliographical Society lectures by Brian Cummings, Elizabeth Solopova and Kate Bennett. There is a conference on ‘Renaissance Italy and the Idea of Spain 1492-1700: St Edmund Hall, 12-14 January.

A major new Bodleian exhibition on ‘The Romance of the Middle Ages’ opens on 28 January. And the Bodleian’s Walter Harding collection of printed music is commemorated in ‘Ragtime to Riches: celebrating the legacy of Walter Harding’, with talks by Abigail Williams and Michael Burden – and music too (18 January).

Advance notice of a conference on Lucretius and the Early Modern, with a fine line-up including Stephen Greenblatt, to be held on 16-17 May: registration details will be circulated when available.

Edward Paleit (University of Exeter) opened the year’s early modern seminars with a fresh look at a little-studied play, Fletcher and Massinger’s The False One (ca. 1619). A leading example of the Jacobean interest in Lucan’s Pharsalia, this play is a sensitive register of literary and perhaps ideological differences, given that the authorship of the different parts has been established with some certainty. Paleit looked closely at parallels with Jonson and Shakespeare to suggest the continuity of divergent dramatic traditions.

In a session held jointly with the Merton College History of the Book Group, Sebastiaan Verweij (Research Assistant, Oxford Edition of the Sermons of John Donne), discussed the challenges of collating seventeenth-century books. He presented a Merton copy of Donne’s Fifty Sermons (1649), which, as can be discovered from the excellent copy notes on the Bodleian’s SOLO catalogue, has an inscription from the publisher: ‘January 4th 53 I doe warrant this booke perfect & the best edition witnese my hand Richard Marriot’. Evidently he meant that the book had been made up from the most completely corrected sheets, a fascinating glimpse into publishing practice. Verweij also demonstrated the ‘Hailey’s Comet’ collator, which to the skilled eye can quickly bring differences between copies into view.

A more interventionist way with early printed books was the topic of Adam Smyth (Birkbeck, University of London). He discussed the ways in which the religious community at Little Gidding developed a distinctive technique of cutting and pasting from printed texts, creating amongst other things a synoptic New Testament, complete with illustrations. Discussion ranged across both the theological and the practical aspects of these remarkable experimental texts.

Katherine Duncan-Jones concluded the term with a paper on ‘Thriving by Foolery in Familiar Letters’. Expanding the familiar theme of foolery from the stage to the social history of the time, she took as one example the ways in which Sir Michael Hickes won the goodwill of his patron Sir Robert Cecil through jokes at his own expense. The paper opened up some fascinating insights into early modern culture, even if it did not necessarily make Cecil’s sense of humour look more attractive.

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.

The above image accompanied the colloquium in honour of Felicity Heal (Jesus College, 30 April), and though not actually a portrait of Dr Heal, reflected the warmth of the tributes she received for her many contributions to early modern history in what Diarmaid MacCullough described as ‘the era of Felicity Heal’. Other participants were Ian Archer, Anna Bayman, Christopher Haigh, Ralph Houlbrooke, Rosemary O’Day, Helen Parish, and Christine Peters, and the colloquium ranged widely over early modern religion and culture.