Professor and McCulloch Chair in English
PO BOX 15000, Halifax, NS B3H 4R2
- Early Modern literature
- Gender studies
- Elizabethan and Jacobean drama
- 17th century womens writing
- BA, MA, PhD (Toronto)
I began my academic career by focusing on the dark and labyrinthine plays of Shakespeare’s contemporary John Webster. In my PhD thesis (later published as A Winter’s Snake: Dramatic Form in the Plays of John Webster), I argued that Webster uses principles of repetition and variation to structure his plays – principles that become especially evident in performance. I subsequently went on to edit both the text of Webster’s The White Devil and a volume of essays on Webster’s Duchess of Malfi. But my fascination with Webster probably came in large part from his astonishing portraits of strong and complex female characters such as the Duchess of Malfi and Vittoria. In the last ten years I have extended my research to their real-life contemporaries, by exploring writing produced by early modern women of the same period: Mary Wroth, Rachel Speght, and Aemilia Lanyer. Instead of “ghettoizing” women writers, however, I seek to understand the cultural space shaped and inhabited by both male and female-authored works. My 2002 book, “A Moving Rhetoricke”: Gender and Silence in Early Modern England, for example, argued that silence was an unstable and contested site of meaning for early modern men and women alike. If masculine silence frequently imitated female self-containment, feminine silence often slid unmanageably from chastity to desire, obedience to resistance. If feminine silence began to do ideological work for early modern male authors by signalling the turn away from a rhetorical culture, early modern women writers appropriated the “moving rhetoric” of silence for their own purposes. My new book, Liberty and the Politics of the Female Voice in Early Stuart England (forthcoming from Cambridge University Press) continues this work by examining the work of women writers through the lens of religious politics rather than gender. My title comes from a 1624 sermon by Puritan preacher William Whately, who ventriloquizes a wife chafing at her husband’s potential tyranny: “What if hee denie me the reasonable libertie which I desire, and should enjoy?” (45). As contributions to early modern “resistance theory,” Whately’s sermons were censored by early modern authorities who quickly recognized that the marital relationship functioned as code for the larger concerns of political life.
In fact, their domestic subject matter was a thin veil for their criticism of King James, an increasingly autocratic monarch who represented himself as husband to the nation. Because Puritan preachers reached scores of literate and illiterate women with their sermons, urging them “to listen with . . . diligence” (Whately 189), they opened spaces for female political engagement. By first establishing their associations with Puritan publishers, printers and dedicatees, I argue that Whately’s most prominent female contemporaries recirculated the analogy between political and domestic space common in oppositional Puritan discourse. Seeking to edify and persuade a larger audience through print or manuscript circulation, they deployed the religio-political resonance of the female voice strategically to offer sustained political critique. Building on scholars who recognize that so-called domestic texts can be read as highly politicized in early modern England, I argue that women writers’ uses of such tropes are a question less of gender than of the political and religious engagements they shared with their male contemporaries.
- Liberty and the Politics of the Female Voice in Early Stuart England (forthcoming from Cambridge University Press)
- ed. with Niamh J. O’Leary, The Politics of Female Alliance in Early Modern England. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2017. Winner of Society for the Study of Early Modern Women Award for Best Collaborative Project published in 2017
- ed., The Duchess of Malfi: A Critical Guide. Arden Companion to Early Modern Drama. London: Bloomsbury, 2011.
- ed., The White Devil. By John Webster. New Mermaids. London: A and C Black, 1996; reprinted 1998, 2001; revised and updated 2008.
- "A Moving Rhetoricke:" Gender and Silence in Early Modern England. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002.
- "A Winter's Snake:" Dramatic Form in the Tragedies of John Webster. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1989.
- “The Querelle des Femmes, the Overbury Scandal and the Politics of the Swetnam Controversy in Early Modern England,” The Oxford Handbook of Early Modern Women’s Writing in English 1540-1680, ed. Elizabeth Scott-Baumann, Danielle Clarke and Sarah C.E. Ross (Oxford University Press, in press).
- “’A womans logicke:’ Puritan Women Writers and the Rejection of Education,” Routledge Companion to Women, Sex and Gender in the Early Modern Anglophone World, ed. Kimberly Anne Coles and Eve Keller (New York: Routledge, 2019). 154-69.
- "Global Othello, Then and Now: The 2015 Royal Shakespeare Company Production in Context," Shakespeare On Stage and Off, ed. Kenneth Graham and Alysia Kolentsis (Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2019).
- Introduction and revised commentary, Othello by William Shakespeare. The New Cambridge Shakespeare. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018.
- with Rose Sneyd, “Recent Studies in Elizabeth Cary,” English Literary Renaissance 46.3 (2017): 456-73
- “Reading Overbury’s Wife: Marriage and Politics in 1616,” Family Politics in Early Modern England, ed. Hannah Crawforth and Sarah Lewis (London: Palgrave, 2017): 39-56.
- “Not Sparing Kings: Aemilia Lanyer and the Religious Politics of Female Alliance,” The Politics of Female Alliance in Early Modern England, ed. Christina Luckyj and Niamh O’Leary (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2017).
- “Boy Prince and Venetian Courtesan: Political Critique in The White Devil,” The Arden Early Modern Drama Guide to The White Devil, ed. Adam Hansen and Paul Frazer (London: Arden / Bloomsbury, 2016): 156-71.
- "A Mouzell for Melastomus in Context: Rereading the Swetnam / Speght Debate," English Literary Renaissance 40.1 (Winter 2010): 113-131.
- "The Politics of Genre in Early Women's Writing: The Case of Lady Mary Wroth,"English Studies in Canada 27.3 (Sept. 2001): 253-82. Rpt. Ashgate Critical Essays on Women Writers in England, 1550-1700, Vol. 4: Mary Wroth, ed. Clare Kinney (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2009).
- “Disciplining the Mother in Seventeenth-Century English Puritanism,” Performing Maternity in Early Modern England, ed. Kate Moncrief and Kathryn McPherson (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007): 101-114.
- “Rachel Speght and the ‘Criticall Reader,” English Literary Renaissance 36.2 (2006): 225-47.
- "Historicizing Gender: Mapping Cultural Space in Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi and Cary’s The Tragedy of Mariam," MLA Approaches to Teaching Renaissance Drama, ed.. Alexander Leggatt and Karen Bamford. New York: MLA, 2002: 134-41.
- "Gender, Rhetoric and Performance in The White Devil." Enacting Gender on the Renaissance Stage. Ed. Viviana Comensoli and Anne Russell. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998. 218-232.; reprinted in Early Modern Revenge Tragedy: A Casebook, ed. Stevie Simkin (Houndmills: Palgrave, 2001): 190-207.
- SSHRC Insight Grant (2013-18)
- Killam Postdoctoral Fellowship
- SSHRC Standard Research Grant
- Research and Development Fund Grants