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2012-13 Long-term Fellows' Project Abstracts

(NEH) Katherine B. Attié, Lecturer in Literature, American University

Shakespeare’s Political Aesthetic


          Reading against the New Historicist reduction of “the political” to an oppressive regime from which art struggles to break free, this book argues that for Shakespeare, the aesthetic and political domains were essentially connected in a more positive way. My approach contextualizes Shakespeare with respect to early modern political thinkers such as Baldesare Castiglione, Sir Thomas Elyot, and Francis Bacon, who scrutinized works of art and forms of beauty for lessons about power, governance, prudence, and justice. Close readings establish that Shakespeare likewise drew political meaning from aesthetic principles while figuring the state as a work of art. Reevaluating the “Elizabethan world picture,” I maintain that although Shakespeare and his contemporaries habitually saw patterns of correspondence as manifesting thebeauty of the universe, this beauty was not simply a result of hegemonic, hierarchical order keeping everything in its proper place. Rather, beauty depends – as Shakespeare’s plays depend – on the artful accommodation and skillful arrangement of eccentricity, variety, and plenitude. In chapters focusing on tyranny as an art of disproportion in Hamlet, conquest as artisanal labor in Henry V, effective governance as musical harmony, and justice as a dance, this studyshows how Shakespeare used the powerful paradox of concordia discors to unite opposing forces and to make difference beautiful. By following a politicized idea of beauty from its classical origins to its early modern flowering, the book demonstrates that a return to aesthetics need not require a turn away from historicity.


(NEH) Dennis Britton, Assistant Professor of English, University of New Hampshire

Becoming Christian: Race, Reformation, and Early Modern English Romance


             The argument of Becoming Christian: Race, Reformation, and Early Modern English Romance is twofold: firstly, the Church of England’s baptismal theology transformed Christians into a race; and secondly, the concepts of racial difference that emerged from this theology affect the English inheritance of the “infidel conversion motif,” in which Jews, Turks, and Moors are baptized and converted to Christianity. This motif originated in medieval romance, and it has a long and continuous history in literary works written by Roman Catholic writers. Its English literary presence wanes, however, in the wake of the Reformation theology that deemphasized the miraculous power of baptism and often asserted instead that salvation could be assured by race or lineage. The infidel conversion motif’s pervasive presence in literary works written by Catholic writers, its waning in Reformation England, and the presence of race in Protestant understandings of salvation have not received scholarly consideration; thus, Becoming Christian will be the first book to illustrate that English Protestant theology provides a not-yet-recognized context for understanding the conception of race in early modern England, as well as for understanding why authors such as Edmund Spenser, Robert Greene, John Harington, William Shakespeare, John Fletcher, and Philip Massinger reject the infidel conversion motif to varying degrees. This project will detail how race and theology altered the imaginative possibilities of the romance genre, and how tracing the infidel conversion motif uncovers changing ideologies about how individuals were believed to acquire racial and religious identities.


(Folger) Kevin McGinley, Lecturer in Scottish Cultural Studies, Orkney College, University of the Highlands and Islands

Scottish Drama in Eighteenth-Century America


             Between 1757 and 1800 Scottish and Scottish-themed drama played a prominent role on the eighteenth-century American stage. This study documents the performances of Scottish works in the American theatre of the period and examines the ways in which they were being adapted to engage with social and political debates current in North America at that time. Scottish drama played a distinctive part in the social and political discussions concerning the formation of American national identity that animated the eighteenth-century American stage. Scottish plays regularly addressed issued of national identity that engaged with Scotland’s “provincial” status in relation to the cultural dominance of metropolitan London. These issues dovetailed with American concerns over their own relationship with Britain in the late eighteenth century, and Scottish dramatic productions in America very often appropriated themes arising from a Scottish context and adapted them to address specifically American social and cultural concerns. Scottish plays were staged by different interest groups, often for opposing ends, in a range of different contexts, from the French-Indian War, through the War of Independence, to the founding of the new Republic. Reconstructing and analyzing performance contexts and responses to Scottish and Scottish-themed plays in eighteenth-century America enables a closer understanding of the way in which Scottish drama was being appropriated to intervene in contemporary American social and political debates in ways that served diverse social and political ends, and will help illuminate the role that Scottish thought and writings of the Enlightenment period played in the formation of American identities.        


(Mellon) Dennis Romano, Professor of History, Syracuse University

Fraud and Deception in Early Modern Italy, c. 1450 to c. 1600


             Evidence from a wide variety of sources indicates that early modern Italians were obsessed with fraud and deception in a wide variety of contexts.  Focusing primarily on the Republic of Florence (later the Duchy – and then the Grand Duchy – of Tuscany) and the Republic of Venice between circa 1450 and circa 1600, this project explores both the practice and the discursive concern with fraud and deception in republican politics and court culture, diplomacy, trade and manufacturing, social relations, and religion in order to offer an anatomy and analysis of fraud and its place in the early modern Italian world.  The Folger Library’s extensive collection of early modern Italian books contains most of the texts that are essential to the study of key components of the project. 

             Emerging from my forthcoming study of the marketplace in late medieval Italy in which I demonstrate that market relations were understood not in terms of competition but rather as an effort to overcome the mistrust that was generated by the fear of being defrauded, this projectoffers the opportunity to investigate how early modern Italians asked (and answered) key questions regarding the relationship between appearance and reality, truth and falsehood, self-interest and the common good, and replication, imitation, and innovation.   This examination will offer a new perspective on a world undergoing radical transformation and in which emerging technologies increased the opportunities for fraud and deception.


(Mellon) Evelyn Tribble, Professor of English, University of Otago

Ecologies of Skill in Early Modern England

             My project seeks to examine the skilled body, beginning with a study of the skilled body of the player and performer and working outward to wider cultural debates about skill and the body. Skill is embodied but also extended and embedded into its environment; it is profoundly social. I hope to construct what I term a cognitive ecology of skill in early modern England, both employing and calling into question contemporary research into skill and expertise in the contemporary cognitive sciences, including recent research into ‘enskillment’ in cognitive anthropology. Among the questions I hope to raise are: how is skill inculcated, appraised, valued, and evaluated cross-culturally and historically? Among the lines of investigation I propose are:

             *Internal evidence within the plays: how is skill and its converse—ineptness—represented and commented upon?

             *The wide range of inset skill displays with the fiction of the drama, including calls for fencing, dancing, pike-throwing, vaulting, and tumbling;

             *Accounts of extra-fictional—shall we say paratextual—feats of skill performed by players attached to companies or travelling with them;

             *Displays and discussion of skill within the wider cultural context of early modern England.


             My aim is to construct a model of ecologies of skill within the period.


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