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2008-2009 Long-term Fellows' Project Abstracts

Mellon Fellows


 Alec Ryrie, Reader in Church History, University of Durham

“Piety and the Experience of Protestantism in Early Modern Britain”

The doctrines of early modern Anglo-Scottish Protestantism (c. 1525-1660) were defined with sharp-eyed precision; not so its practices.  It was forthright in proscribing Catholic piety, but (ever fearful of idolatry) was reticent in endorsing religious practices of its own. However, piety abhors a vacuum.  Of necessity, pious Protestants—‘godly’ Puritans and quieter conformists alike—had to find ways of blamelessly passing their time.  The patterns of pious action that resulted constitute the lived experience of Protestantism.

I am attempting to reconstruct that experience, so essential for understanding Protestantism’s extraordinary cultural impact. Clearly, lay Protestants valued Bible-reading, sermon-attendance, laboring in one’s vocation and (above all) prayer.  It is less clear exactly how they did these things; what they understood them to mean; or how they found sustenance from them.  Likewise, vehement debate over doctrine and practice was a regular Protestant occupation; we barely understand why those debates packed such an emotional punch for the participants. This was a restless, intensely self-conscious religion which depended on maintaining, or manufacturing, a constant sense of crisis.

There has been much scattered, interdisciplinary work around this topic.  I lead a network which will hold several conferences and workshops on the subject in 2008-2009.  During a Fellowship, I propose to work towards a substantial monograph.  Specifically, I hope to examine: Protestant fasting; reading, writing, and sermon-attending as pious practices; concepts of secular work; and practices of private prayer.  I plan to use the Folger’s numerous commonplace books, as well as printed sermons and pious treatises.


David Schalkwyk, Professor of English, University of Cape Town

“Humanism and Love’s Transgression in Shakespeare and his Contemporaries”

Very little has been written about love and the English Renaissance in the past three decades, though much has been said about desire.  A key term in recent theories of subjectivity, “desire” has been thought to constitute a more highly theorized, and therefore a descriptively and analytically keener, tool for those who wish to explore sexual relationships in terms, above all, of relations of power.  The aversion to love in recent critical theory and practice is a symptom of a pervasive and long-standing antagonism to humanism.  Critics and theorists have allowed their political aversion to humanism to blind them to humanist ideas as a radical shaping force in the early modern period.  This project therefore seeks to recover what has been overlooked by the theoretical antagonism to humanism and the concomitant revulsion from the word “love.” I argue that rather than returning Shakespeare’s texts to their historical situation, the new theory predicated upon “desire” misses something crucial about the ways in which Shakespeare and his contemporaries might have understood and used the word “love” within a growing context of radical humanist thought and value.  My project seeks to recover the historical forces of humanism in English Renaissance texts, while retaining the new historicist and materialist concern with shaping public and social forces.  I want to trace, in both the literary and non-literary writing of the period, ways in which a humanist valuation of the finality of the specific human being loved might have been regarded as socially and politically transgressive rather than, as is usually thought, complicit in conservative models of social repression and exploitation.


NEH Fellows


Professor Jonathan Gil Harris, Professor of English, George Washington University

“Shakespeare and Literary Theory”

“Shakespeare and Literary Theory” will consider the four-centuries-long relation between Shakespeare and theories of literary production and critical analysis.  I plan to draw on two archives that uniquely exist alongside one another at the Folger: early modern materials by, on, and about Shakespeare; and theories of literature and criticism from 1800 to the present. “Shakespeare and Literary Theory” will not seek to apply theory to Shakespeare.  Rather, it will tease out the ways in which modern theory has always been “Shakespearean” and Shakespeare’s writing had always been “theoretical.” The symbiotic relation between Shakespeare and theory is readily apparent in a wide spectrum of modern critical methods.  But it is apparent also in early modern texts that comment on Shakespeare to advance “theoretical” understandings of genre (Meres), literary taste (the Parnassus plays), national poetry (Jonson), prosopopeia (Milton), dramatic character (Margaret Cavendish), and material properties (Rymer).  By narrating this symbiotic history, “Shakespeare and Literary Theory” will argue for a comprehensive demystification of “theory.”  The term derives from the Greek theorein, which signifies “looking at,” “contemplation,” “speculation,” “viewing.”  All these definitions characterize the ways in which we apprehend Shakespeare.  When we engage Shakespeare, therefore, we enter into theory.  Theory need no longer be seen as some exotic and vaguely totalitarian land that treats its rare visitors with disdain.  Rather, it is a land we already inhabit, not least when we think about and view Shakespeare.


Professor Caroline M. Hibbard, Associate Professor of History, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

“A Place at Court: Palaces and Courtiers of Henrietta Maria”

This book project approaches the analysis of the early Stuart court as a political arena through the detailed analysis of the household and court of Charles I’s consort Henrietta Maria in the decades before the English civil war. This group of about 200 individuals is not entirely “representative,” but it embodies the personnel categories of the larger court, and yields important analytical approaches that are of general relevance to early modern court studies. My extensive data base is built from a wide range of sources including a full run of the Queen’s annual “establishment books,” her account books, records of the Signet Office, Lord Chamberlain’s and Lord Steward’s offices, and printed and manuscript correspondence, newsletters, and ambassadorial reports.  It is organized around the principle that ordered the court—the rooms of the palace, and how the right of entry into them denoted status as well as defining service.

Access provided power and the means to profit; the attainment of place was a major objective of courtiers. We have long known this, but lacked sufficient information about the origins and rewards of household officials to develop analytical tools to study place-seeking across the breadth of the household.  This is what my study aims to provide.  The three themes that mingle with all parts of this work are those of marriage/dynasty, profit, and religion. This was not an age of party, but an era of household and dynastic politics.  The royal household was the epitome and apex of this political organization.


 Professor H. C. Erik Midelfort, Professor of History, University of Virginia

“Suppression of Dissent in Early Modern Germany, 1650 – 1750”

My research project aims to study the means by which the Holy Roman Empire in the century after the Thirty Years’ War suppressed a great many sorts of dissent. This success would not have been predicted during the sixteenth century, when Martin Luther, Sebastian Franck, Caspar Schwenckfeld, and other religious dissenters exploited the religious uncertainties and social anxieties of the day and often moved, without too many restrictions, from town to town or region to region. After 1650, however, German authorities fended off many of the most dangerous ideas and managed to expel, intimidate, or warn off those dissidents who dared circulate clandestine manuscripts or transmit unorthodox ideas. I intend to study the personal fates of such dissidents, the legal mechanisms of urban censure and censorship (in secular courts and church consistories), the self-censorship of publishers, and the failed efforts of foreign radicals to make converts in the German territories. This process is especially interesting because the Holy Roman Empire was not a unified state; it had no effective central body of censors or regulators. Officially there was no tolerance beyond the three recognized faiths (Catholic, Lutheran, and Reformed), but there was no German Inquisition.  And yet a loose congeries of towns and principalities somehow managed to enforce a remarkable level of uniformity among Germans, both Protestant and Catholic. Such an outcome flies in the face of modern expectations that a system of small towns and competing territories should stimulate freedom rather than conformity.


ACLS/Burkhardt Fellow


HannibalHamlin, Associate Professor of English, The Ohio State University

“Shakespeare and Biblical Culture”

This will be the first serious, major study of Shakespeare’s use of biblical allusions and references to make meaning in his plays.  Despite the fact that it has not been acknowledged by Bullough, Muir, and others as a “source,” in the traditional sense, no work is alluded to more often and more meaningfully in Shakespeare’s plays and poems than the Bible. This project will explore Shakespeare’s allusive practice, one which he derived from Kyd and Marlowe but which he further developed to his own purposes. The Renaissance Bible was also an interpreted Bible, however.  Thus, this study will explore glosses, sermons, liturgies, commentaries, literature, and art, to determine the range of scriptural interpretations available to Shakespeare’s audience. The rich holdings of the Folger will enable me to describe how playgoers might have made meaning of the interaction between Shakespeare’s plays and the biblical texts, characters, and ideas to which they allude. Moreover, the experience of hearing the Bible in church conditioned Shakespeare’s audience to recognize and interpret biblical allusions in the theater. Therefore, the study will also explore the relationship between the Church and the theater as cultural institutions. Finally, "Shakespeare and Biblical Culture" will include a survey of the criticism on Shakespeare and the Bible, beginning in the nineteenth century, which includes important essays on individual plays, major works of bibliographical scholarship, as well as some extremely peculiar but nevertheless intriguing studies. This project will advance our understanding of both Shakespeare and the profoundly biblical culture of early modern England.



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