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English Department

Research Projects

Making and Breaking Images in John Milton's Paradise Lost

What did the Reformation do to the companionable relationship between poetry and pictures, words and images, a relationship theorized by Horace under the rubric ut pictura poesis and championed by Renaissance humanism? I argue that in Paradise Lost Milton’s word pictures of God the Father and the Son in heaven, the Spirit as a dove, Satan in hell, and Adam and Eve in prelapsarian Eden are a riposte to the image debates of the 1620s and 1630s which culminated in the iconoclasm that preceded the Civil Wars. But, as a corrective, I suggest that Milton should be placed at the more iconophile end of a broad spectrum of attitudes. These findings serve to question the label ‘Puritan’ routinely foisted on Milton by Miltonists while drawing attention to his monist philosophy of matter. The early stages of this project were generously funded by an SNF Ambizione award (2013-2015).

Seventeenth-century Cultures of Reading: Anne Clifford’s European Library

Anne Clifford (1590-1676), Countess of Pembroke, Dorset, and Montgomery, diarist and chronicler, commissioned a triptych of herself in 1646. Anne is depicted at three distinct ages surrounded by some 50 books all with legible titles. This virtual library ranges from literature and books of devotion more usually associated with women to more ‘masculine’ works of history and philosophy. It is European: English works by Chaucer, Spenser, Daniel, Jonson, Herbert and Donne appear alongside translations of Latin, French, Spanish, and Italian landmarks. What might this library tell us about female cultures of reading in 17th-century England?

Reformation Fictions: Polemical Protestant Dialogues in Elizabethan England.

This project rehabilitates some twenty polemical dialogues published in Elizabethan England, for the first time giving them a literary, historicist, and theological reading. By juxtaposing these English texts with their continental Lutheran and Calvinist counterparts on the one hand, and with English sermons, catechisms, theological treatises, and Reformation plays on the other, this study theorizes the genre, identifies its rhetorical strategies and fictionalagency, and assesses its radicalizing impact on English Protestant discourse. What comes to light is a body of satirical literature which brilliantly exploits its fictional status to deliver radical ideas. (See publications)