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Shakespeare and Early Modern Literature

Shakespeare and Early Modern Literature

Shakespeare and Early Modern Literature Research Group

All members of the Shakespeare and Early Modern Literature Research group pursue their own individual research paths in this rich and diverse field; they also share interests in performance history, contemporary film and theatre adaptations, material and textual culture, poetry and editing.

We are all scholars of national and international standing: we have published leading publications in our respective fields and have individually worked in creative research partnerships with a range of cultural institutions such as The Globe, the RSC, Fondazione Cini, Venice, Pegasus Theatre and TORCH, Oxford. We are also deeply committed to the dissemination of our knowledge through public performance, media broadcasts, digital resources and creative links with schools, for example, through TeacherHub>English.

Dr Roy Booth, from his Wordsworth edition of The Collected Poems of John Donne to his most recent research on early modern witchcraft, continues to inspire Royal Holloway students with his research-led teaching; Dr Jessica Chiba, an Honorary Research Associate, works on Shakespeare and philosophy and Japanese translations of Shakespeare; Dr Alison Knight specialises in the history and interpretation of the Bible in England and religious migration to England in the sixteenth century. Her first book, The Dark Bible: Cultures of Interpretation in Early modern England is forthcoming from OUP; Dr Harry Newman has published widely on the history of technology and medicine, book and theatre history, and gender & sexuality. His first book was Impressive Shakespeare: Identity, Authority and the Imprint in Shakespearean Drama (Routledge, 2019), and he is currently researching his second book, The Birth of Character, focused on the lasting impact of new and marketable forms of virtual humanity developed in early modern drama, poetry and prose fiction; Dr Deana Rankin’s publications on early modern Ireland, have focused on theatre, women’s writing and historiography in order to extend the borders of the metropolitan English canon. Finally, Professor Kiernan Ryan, now Emeritus in acknowledgement of his long career of engaging publications on and teaching of Shakespeare, continues his supportive links with Royal Holloway and we are looking forward to his forthcoming book on Shakespearean Tragedy.

Over the years, this research group has been particularly successful in attracting AHRC, technē and other scholarship funding for PhD students. A number of them emerged from our Undergraduate Shakespeare Pathway. We have all worked with a vibrant community of PhD students on a wide range of subjects including Shakespeare’s Ontology; Shakespeare and Bollywood; Baconian readings of Shakespearean tragedy; Renaissance reception of Greek drama; Memory in the History Plays; Shakespeare’s Fools; the influence of Hamlet’s First Quarto on C21 productions; Shakespeare and the Arab Spring; post-Holocaust responses to King Lear; Race and Material Culture in Early Modern Drama and a novel re-imagining King Lear, set in contemporary India, now published by Preti Taneja as We That Are Young, winner of the Desmond Elliot Prize 2018. 

We are always keen to hear from prospective PhD students interested in working on questions which intersect with our own research interests, for example, international adaptations of Shakespeare; stage, screen, online versions of the plays; Digital Shakespeare Education; materialism and the text; politics and reception; philosophical approaches to the text; post-colonialisms and feminisms on stage.

Dr Roy Booth
Dr Jessica Chiba (Honorary Research Associate)
Dr Alison Knight

Alison Knight joined Royal Holloway in 2020 as lecturer in interdisciplinary Early Modern Studies, a role which bridges the English and history departments. Her first monograph, The Dark Bible: Cultures of Interpretation in Early Modern England (forthcoming, OUP) explores approaches to biblical obscurity in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England, and is particularly interested in the intersecting nature of writing, interpretation, and religion. She has published articles in Studies in Philology and The John Donne Journal, and received the John Donne Society's 2018 Distinguished Publication Award. She has published chapters in The Oxford Handbook of the Early Modern Bible and The Oxford Encyclopaedia of the Bible and the Arts and has contributed chapters to the collections Scholarship and the Making of the King James Version of the Bible (Brill, 2018), The Bible in Western Literature (forthcoming, Bloomsbury), and Using Early Modern Scholarship in Nineteenth-century Britain (forthcoming, CUP). Her current research project stems from her Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship held at the University of Cambridge, titled ‘The Stranger Churches: Hate Speech and Religious Refugees in Early Modern England.’ This project links literary, historical, religious, and geopolitical approaches in order to investigate England’s charged public discourse surrounding continental Protestants fleeing persecution in the sixteenth century. Prior to this project, she also held a European Research Council Fellowship as a member of the collaborative, interdisciplinary project ‘The Bible and Classical Antiquity in Nineteenth Century Culture’ at Cambridge.

Dr Harry Newman

Harry Newman joined Royal Holloway in 2015 as Lecturer in Shakespeare and Early Modern Literature. His first monograph, Impressive Shakespeare: Identity, Authority and the Imprint in Shakespearean Drama (Routledge, 2019), investigates the centrality of the language and technology of impression (sealing, coining, medal-making, printing) to questions of character, poetics, genre and authorship, and to Shakespeare's historical construction as an "impressive" dramatist. He has published articles in the journals Shakespeare, Shakespeare Bulletin, Renaissance Drama and Lives and Letters, chapters in the collections The Book Trade in Early Modern England (British Library & Oak Knoll Press, 2014) and Medical Paratexts from Medieval to Modern (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018; paperback 2019), and a co-edited special issue (with Sarah Dustagheer) on "Metatheatre and Early Modern Drama" (Shakespeare Bulletin 36.1, 2018). He recently completed a Fellowship at the Folger Shakespeare Library (in Washington DC), where he started his new book-project, The Birth of Character. The book traces the rise of character and a literary and cultural concept, focusing on experiments with virtual humanity across genres by a wide range of authors, stationers and readers between the mid-sixteenth and mid-seventeenth centuries.

Dr Deana Rankin

Dr Rankin's first book, Between Spenser and Swift: English Writing in Seventeenth-century Ireland (Cambridge UP, 2005) explored the transition from soldier to settler across the turbulent seventeenth century and was awarded the American Conference for Irish Studies prize for Best Book on Literature. Her edition of Henry Burnell’s Landgartha [1641] (Four Courts, 2014), an allegorical play about Scandinavian Amazons staged in Dublin is credited with issuing a strong challenge to received ideas of the English canon (TLS, 2016). Her current book project, ‘Cities of Ladies: Staging Amazons from Late Antiquity to the present day’, focuses on moments where Amazon plays emerge against a background of political crisis, from the ‘lost’ Amazon plays and ‘Female Worthies’ of the late C16th, through C18 movements for women’s rights and education, to the emergence of the complex Amazons of fourth-wave feminism, from Kill Bill to Wonder Woman.

Dr Rankin previously worked in arts management and remains committed to collaborations which bring academics and artists together.  She was academic mentor for Indian Shakespeares on Screen (April 2016) a conference-festival which brought Bollywood director Vishal Bhardwaj and his ‘Shakespeare trilogy’ to the BFI. She is Shakespeare consultant to ‘Storming Utopia: A tempestuous experiment in practical Utopianism’, 2014-, a performance collaboration between the University of Oxford TORCH Knowledge Exchange Project, Pegasus Theatre and the Fondazione Cini, Venice which works with Thomas More’s Utopia (1516) and Shakespeare’s The Tempest (1616) to explore what kind of confederations, political and aesthetic, are possible, or worth dreaming our way towards, in our islands’ future. She is working with University College Dublin and the Smock Alley Theatre, on a project  to stage Landgartha at RSA Dublin 2021, one hundred years on from the Irish War of Independence. This will be the first production since St Patrick’s Day 1640.

Dr Rankin currently holds a Visiting Fellowship at the Arts and Humanities Institute, University of Maynooth University in association with the MACMORRIS project. This digitial humanities project, led by Professor Patricia Palmer and funded by the Irish Research Council, will create the first annotated and interactive digital map of all cultural players—from poets, patrons, and pamphleteers, to translators, travel-writers, and administrators—who were active in Early Modern Ireland. She also holds a Maddock Research Fellowship in Marsh’s Library, Dublin.

Professor Kiernan Ryan

Emeritus Professor of English Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London, Emeritus Fellow of Murray Edwards College, University of Cambridge, and Honorary Senior Research Fellow of the Shakespeare Institute, Stratford-upon-Avon. His publications include Shakespeare (3rd edition, 2002), Shakespeare’s Comedies (2009), Shakespeare’s Universality: Here’s Fine Revolution (2015) and the Introduction to the Penguin Classics edition of King Lear (2015). His next book, Shakespearean Tragedy, will be published by Bloomsbury in 2021.

Dr Sue Sachon (Research Associate)


Prospective PhD students are invited to make contact with the member of staff most closely aligned to their areas of interest for informal discussion of developing research proposals. The Shakespeare and Early Modern Research Group has a strong record of providing AHRC- technē and other scholarships for suitably qualified students and compelling research proposals. Training and support is offered at our leafy Egham campus and at our Central London base in Bedford Square. 

Our graduate students have developed close links with a number of cultural institutions in and around London, including the Museum of London, the Science Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum and Shakespeare's Globe. We also encourage students to attend the London Shakespeare seminar series at KCL. The Library at Royal Holloway supports the needs of our research students with excellent digital and physical provision in early modern texts, both primary and secondary (including a copy of the second folio of Shakespeare's Works). Our collection is augmented by easy access to the British Library and the resources of Senate House Library in the University of London.

The researchers in Shakespeare and Early Modern studies run a number of regular academic activities in addition to the organisation of bigger conferences and research days:

  • The Paper Stage is RHUL's interactive playreading series, dedicated to the extraordinary range of drama produced in early modern England. We also have branches at the University of Kent and in Mantua, Italy. We organise unrehearsed, sit-down readings a range of plays by Shakespeare and his contemporaries, from Middleton's bawdy city comedies to Kyd and Webster's bloody revenge tragedies, from the lyrical heights of Marlowe's soliloquising protagonists to the earthy wit of Jonson's fraudsters. These plays present strange worlds that will seduce, excite and horrify, but also perhaps offer a mirror for our own cultural moment. No experience of acting or verse-speaking is necessary. For more information, see the blog. Enquiries can be made to Dr Harry Newman at
  • The Shakespeare Reading Group: a casual reading group where scholars and students of every level and all disciplines gather to choose and read a Shakespeare play on a weekly basis.
  • TeacherHub: we have created a number of video resources for secondary school teachers teaching Shakespeare at KS4 and KS5, held Forum events for teachers and organised study days such as our Othello day in February 2019.
  • One-day MA study days to provide a conference-style space for students who do not always get such opportunities.

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