A sampling of current PhD projects in the field of early modern studies in the Department of English, University of Exeter.
James Alsop, “Playing dead: ‘living death’ in early modern theatre.” Today, the phrase ‘living death’ elicits thoughts of ghouls, zombies, vampires, and their ilk, creatures which did not exist in English cultural imagination (at least, not in the forms that we know them!) during Shakespeare’s time. My project examines conceptions of ‘living death’ in early modern England – specifically its theatre, which was a veritable lacuna of the almost-living and the not-quite-dead. I bridge the gaps between historical context, early modern performance, and modern-day interpretation by suggesting not only that living death was a vital part of theatre in the English Renaissance, but that a greater understanding of living death allows for bold new interpretations of early modern theatrical texts.
Jennifer Barnes, “Representations of masculinity and the male body in the filmed Shakespeare adaptations of Laurence Olivier, Orson Welles, Franco Zeffirelli and Kenneth Branagh.” My research project will examine representations of masculinity and the masculine body in filmed adaptations of Shakespearean tragedies and histories, focusing on the cinematic works of Laurence Olivier, Orson Welles, Franco Zeffirelli and Kenneth Branagh. I am interested in how the film texts under discussion appropriate ‘Shakespeare’ as a means by which to assert cultural ideals of masculinity and, particularly, in the ways in which the auteur himself is represented via the masculine body on screen.
Jeremy Bloomfield, “The Theatrical Afterlife of the Duchess of Malfi.” Jem Bloomfield is researching a PhD on the theatrical afterlife of Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi. He is particularly interested in the ways in which performance conditions and printings interact to produce a play’s “meaning” at different cultural moments. His current research suggests that the first printing of The Duchess was largely influenced by the politics of the “Spanish Match”.
Dan Cattell, “The Polemical Succession: James I and the Writing of Controversy.” Dan Cattell’s research interests include the representation of confessional identities and the materiality of print culture. His doctoral thesis, funded by the AHRC, examines Catholic-Protestant controversial writings within a specific moment of anticipated and then actualised dynastic change. Drawing on theorists of technological innovation and the transformation of the word such as Walter Ong, S.J. and incorporating current insights into early modern bibliography, he assesses the impact these writings may have had on the broader literary culture of the period.
Philip Denning, “‘…imputed to [them] for righteousness’: The influence of the Classics on the theology of Milton.” I am exploring Milton’s attitudes towards the ancients. Not content to merely continue the Renaissance tradition of attempting to Christianise classical myth and philosophy, Milton, I believe, took it a stage further, by recognising within what the ancients had left behind, valid paths to salvation that could take full advantage of the eternal grace provided by Calvary.
Lee Durbin. Concurrent with recent scholarship building on the work of Walter Ong and Marshall McLuhan – early pioneers in the study of the cultural effects of technological change – and with a particular focus on the private library collection, curiosity cabinet (and its later incarnation, the Kunstkammer), and the application of Ramist techniques, my study aims to reassess the efforts of Renaissance poets, scholars and collectors as they sought to transpose the mnemonic devices of pre-Gutenberg oral society to the new (information) technology of typographic print. In a wider literary context, my research draws upon works such as Thomas Heywood’s Gunaikeion and Michael Drayton’s Poly-Olbion as examples of the early modern database and hypertext, demonstrating that not only were current trends in the digital world anticipated in the literary heritage of early modern England, but that much can be garnered too from seventeenth century storage-and-retrieval systems as we embark upon the second information revolution. Further details on my research can be found in my blog, Marginalia .
Jo Esra, “Shaping ‘West Barbary.” My thesis focuses on a localised element to the cross-cultural practice of 16th and 17th century Barbary captivity, which specifically involves the West Country. I am particularly interested in discerning how national, regional, ethnic and religious ontologies, landscapes and subjectivities are imagined and produced through these localised practices and their representations. In order to contextualise understandings of relevant identities and concepts, such as ‘Cornish’, ‘Englishness’, ‘Turk’, ‘barbarism’ and ‘heresy’, my research is framed within early modern revisions of classical humoral and climate theory. This engages in wider discussions concerning identity and the environment taking place at Exeter Cornwall Campus.
Briony Frost, “Becoming a King’s Man: Did Shakespeare Meddle in the Affairs of State?” Turning with the tide of criticism that would see Shakespeare restored to his own age to be best understood, my research, funded by the AHRC, tackles three of Shakespeare’s most contentious but arguably greatest tragedies, Macbeth, King Lear and Antony and Cleopatra, in the context of the turbulent early years of James I’s reign. Addressing issues of succession, representation, the arcane imperii and the legacy of Queen Elizabeth, I shall explore whether the king’s patronage allowed Shakespeare to “o’erleap” the step of censorship to meddle in the affairs of state.
Alanna Skuse, ‘Constructing cancer in early modern England’. My inter-disciplinary research project (funded by the Wellcome Trust) examines the way in which early modern medics, patients and lay people thought and wrote about cancer, focussing on the examination of medical and instructional texts as literary artefacts. Though now commonly perceived as a post-industrial disease, cancer occupied a specific and sometimes problematic space in the early modern medical imagination, both as a highly gendered disease, primarily to be found in women’s breasts, and as a challenge to medical authority which invited new and dangerous forms of intervention such as the mastectomy. I am also interested more generally in the development of surgery, medical ethics, and bodily interiority during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.
Zhiyan Zhang, “Death and Memory in Shakespearean Tragedies.” My PhD thesis (funded by ORSAS and CSC) will explore themes of death and memory in King Lear, Othello, Macbeth, and especially Hamlet. Death, like plague, is pervasive and inevitable in Shakespearean tragedies. Memory, like a shadow or a ghost, also sets foot in most plays and hovers in protagonists’ minds. What is Shakespeare’s attitude towards death? Does Hamlet harbor the death wish or is he worried about what is unknowable after death? Does memory lead Hamlet to death or is memory what can give him consolation after death? Where possible, I hope to explore death and memory in Shakespearean tragedies anthropologically based on comparisons between English culture and Chinese culture.