Category Archives: Culture, Text and History

The heterogeneous nature of manuscript recipe books in early modern England

by Kate Owen
Kate Owen has recently completed her MA in the English department at King’s College London. She has an interest in the medical humanities, the transmission of scientific knowledge in the early modern period, and is currently a volunteer at St Bartholomew’s Hospital Museum and Archive. 

In the second semester of my master’s programme, Early Modern English Literature: Text and Transmission, I took a module called ‘professing writing’. This module looks at a large range of literary and non-literary genres, such as poetry, devotional texts, travel writing and scientific writing. Through guest lecturers and trips to professional libraries, the module also introduced different approaches to academic research. It was on one of these trips to the Wellcome Library, that I first came across early modern women’s recipe books.

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Lightning Flashes and Electric Dashes: American Telegraphic Literature

by Harriet Thompson, PhD candidate in the English department at King’s College London. 

William John Johnston’s Lightning Flashes and Electric Dashes is a volume of late nineteenth-century American fiction comprised of ‘contributions from the pens of all the prominent writers in the ranks of telegraphic literature’. Johnston was himself a telegraph operator, as well as a publisher, and editor of the profession’s leading trade journal ‘The Operator’. He published a number of notable works of telegraphic literature by women telegraphers, including Ella Cheever Thayer’s novel Wired Love and short fictional works by Lida Churchill and Josie Schofield.

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Reflections from ‘The Early Modern Inns of Court and the Circulation of Text’ Conference

By Dr Romola Nuttall and Julian Neuhauser

‘The Early Modern Inns of Court and the Circulation of Text’ was one of the events supported by the King’s English Department and two of its research groups (the Text Histories and Politics Research Cluster and the Collaborative Seed Fund Partnership) in the academic year 2018-19. This ambitious two-day conference took place in Bush House on 14-15 June 2019. What began as a conference expanded to include a talk at Middle Temple by the former Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, (and Middle Templar) Lord Igor Judge, an event at Temple Church held in conjunction with the Inner Temple Historical Society and the Inner Temple Drama society, a Middle Temple Library exhibition of materials curated especially for the conference, and a professional revival of The Misfortunes of Arthur (1587) by the Dolphin’s Back theatre company in Gray’s Inn Chapel on 14 June 2019.

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Engendering the Stage in London

by Hailey Bachrach and Dr Romola Nuttall, King’s College London

An Apology for Actors: Early Modern Playing Then and Now, King’s College London, Friday 10 May 2019

Research in Action: Engendering the Stage, Shakespeare’s Globe, Monday 13 May 2019.

“Engendering the Stage in the Age of Shakespeare and Beyond” brings together scholars, actors and theatre practitioners to analyse the performance of gender in early modern drama and investigate the effects of women’s performance on the skills, techniques and technologies of the performance of femininity in the drama of Shakespeare and his English and European contemporaries. In May, the project held two events in London at King’s and Shakespeare’s Globe.

The workshop at King’s considered children’s companies and female performers at court as well as professional, more typical, “actors”. The Research in Action event at Shakespeare’s Globe used scenes which include gendered expressions of rage for public performance and audience discussion.

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Chaucer’s Own Scribe? Adam Pynkhurst and the Production of Middle English Literature

by Lawrence Warner, Reader in Medieval English, KCL

Book cover of Chaucer’s Scribes by Lawrence Warner.

Dr Warner’s third monograph, Chaucer’s Scribes: Medieval Textual Production, 1384-1432, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2018. He is also undertaking a new critical edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. He is recipient of the 2016 Beatrice White Prize of the English Association for outstanding scholarly work in the field of English Literature before 1590, and Honorable Mention for the Richard J. Finneran Award for 2013, awarded by the Society for Textual Scholarship.

How did I end up writing a book arguing that the most exciting announcement ever in Chaucer studies — in medieval literary studies, perhaps even in English studies as a whole — was, to be blunt, wrong? Continue reading Chaucer’s Own Scribe? Adam Pynkhurst and the Production of Middle English Literature

Presenting the Early Modern Inns Of Court and the Circulation of Text

PhD researchers in the English department organise many conferences throughout the year. We asked current PhD researcher Julian Neuhauser, co-organiser of “The Early Modern Inns of Court and the Circulation of Text” with newly-minted Dr Romola Nuttall, to reflect on what inspired the conference and the various other events that are set to take place this summer.

By Julian Neuhauser, PhD candidate in the English Department

Since their establishment in the 14th century, the Inns of Court have been at the centre of legal scholarship and practice. Thought of as the ‘third university’, the Inns attracted graduates of Oxford and Cambridge who wanted to professionalise as lawyers and politicians. These student members of the Inns brought with them the habits and forms of sociability that they learned at university, including their socio-literary activities.

Grays Inn
Grays Inn courtyard

In order to investigate the literary history of the Inns of Court, I have been co-organising, along with Romola Nuttall (who defended her thesis at King’s in 2018), a conference called “The Early Modern Inns of Court and the Circulation of Text”. The conference will pull together cutting edge, materially-grounded, and culturally critical literary scholarship about the Inns, and we are also arranging a whole host of events around the papers and keynotes.

Romola was keen that we think about how to incorporate the Inns’ tradition of holding revels into our program. Revels were opulent and mirthful events, held annually around Christmas. They included lavish dinners, student run plays, and flyting – that is, combative (though usually well-spirited) extemporaneous oral jousting.

On the occasion of a particularly riotous Middle Temple revel in 1598, the poet and Middle Temple man Sir John Davies smashed a cudgel (like a Quidditch beater) over the head of fellow poet and lawyer Richard Martin. The event resulted in Davies’ ban from Middle Temple, but it also prompted him to return to New College, Oxford and, perhaps as an act of self-reflective contrition,[1] compose his poem Nosce Teipsum (‘Know Thyself’, check out an excerpt here.) Continue reading Presenting the Early Modern Inns Of Court and the Circulation of Text

In troubling times, it’s best to turn to your inner poet

by Ruth Padel, Professor of Poetry. Emerald, published by Chatto & Windus, is her 11th poetry collection.

“Never be afraid of saying you like poetry,” Jeremy Corbyn told thousands of people at Glastonbury in 2017, after reciting the end of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s ‘The Masque of Anarchy‘:

“Rise like lions after slumber … / Shake your chains to earth like dew … / Ye are many, they are few”.

Shelley wrote that poem – an apocalyptic vision of Britain’s destructive, corrupt, hypocritical rulers – after the Peterloo massacre in 1819, when the cavalry charged a peaceful crowd listening to speeches on parliamentary reform. Fifteen people died. “I met Murder on the way/ He had a mask like Castlereagh/ Very smooth he looked, yet grim;/ Seven blood-hounds followed him”.

Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1819, by Alfred Clint, via Wikipedia.

In the following stanzas, the foreign secretary, prime minister and lord chancellor of the day accompany Lord Castlereagh, the leader of the House of Commons, through the groaning land, along with Anarchy, Shelley’s name for capitalism. The procession is stopped by a young woman called Hope (who “looked more like Despair”), who lay down in front of the horses.

I learned about Corbyn’s endorsement of poetry in discussion with Shami Chakrabarti in a “poetry and human rights” event at King’s College London, part of a series that highlights poetry’s conversation with all aspects of life, public or private, political or scientific. Continue reading In troubling times, it’s best to turn to your inner poet

Science fiction was around in medieval times – here’s what it looked like

by Carl Kears, lecturer in Old and Middle English literature before 1400 at King’s College London, and James Paz, University of Manchester and King’s alumnus.

Science fiction may seem resolutely modern, but the genre could actually be considered hundreds of years old. There are the alien green “children of Woolpit”, who appeared in 12th-century Suffolk and were reported to have spoken a language no one could understand. There’s also the story of Eilmer the 11th-century monk, who constructed a pair of wings and flew from the top of Malmesbury Abbey. And there’s the Voynich Manuscript, a 15th-century book written in an unknowable script, full of illustrations of otherworldly plants and surreal landscapes.

These are just some of the science fictions to be discovered within the literatures and cultures of the Middle Ages. There are also tales to be found of robots entertaining royal courts, communities speculating about utopian or dystopian futures, and literary maps measuring and exploring the outer reaches of time and space.

The influence of the genre we call “fantasy”, which often looks back to the medieval past in order to escape a techno-scientific future, means that the Middle Ages have rarely been associated with science fiction. But, as we have found, peering into the complex history of the genre, while also examining the scientific achievements of the medieval period, reveals that things are not quite what they seem. Continue reading Science fiction was around in medieval times – here’s what it looked like

Pop Enlightenments

by Emrys Jones, Lecturer in Eighteenth-Century Literature and Culture, and host of Pop Enlightenments Listen on Soundcloud and iTunes.

Earlier this year, I received what might be my favourite ever comment from an anonymous peer reviewer. It was regarding an article I had written for Literature Compass surveying recent scholarship on the eighteenth-century poet, Alexander Pope. I had offhandedly remarked in the essay that Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the 2004 film written by Charlie Kaufman and directed by Michel Gondry, was Pope’s moment of greatest visibility in modern popular culture.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, poster c. Focus Films via Wikimedia Commons.

I didn’t think this would prove too controversial. The film takes a line from Pope’s Eloisa to Abelard (1717) as its title, and has one of its characters quote that line as part of a larger extract from the same poem. But the peer reviewer—amiably, it must be said—disagreed. Had I considered the Elvis song, ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love’, with its assertion, cribbed from Pope but attributed to generic “wise men”, that “fools rush in”? Had I watched the 1997 film—a Friends-era Matthew Perry vehicle—that took its title from that same line of poetry (Essay on Criticism, 1711, l.625)? I was sorely tempted to rewrite the whole article at this stage, to turn it into a lengthy dissertation on Pope’s importance for the romantic comedy genre. Hope Springs, anyone? But instead I stuck to my guns, politely insisted on Eternal Sunshine’s pre-eminence, and resubmitted the essay. Continue reading Pop Enlightenments

Shakespeare at war

By Amy Lidster, Postdoctoral Research Associate, Department of English, @amy_lidster

Productions of Shakespeare’s plays have been regularly used to comment on the political and public affairs of their performance moment – occasionally provoking heated responses. In 2017, for example, the Public Theatre’s production of Julius Caesar at Shakespeare in the Park prompted a media furore (led by Fox News), because the presentation of Caesar bore a striking resemblance to Donald Trump.

The Public Theatre, other news media, and Shakespeare scholars (such as Stephen Greenblatt) were quick to point out that Shakespeare’s play hardly condones the assassination of Caesar and that it explores, instead, the conspirators’ flawed and extreme reactions to a democracy under threat. But audience responses cannot be contained by a careful reading of the text, and, while a production may clearly announce its relevance to contemporary politics, it is difficult to pinpoint a specific application or to control public responses to it.

Shakespeare in the Park/ ‘Julius Caesar‘, New York, 2017.

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