Five College Associate Professor of English
Jane is currently working on a new book on the relationship between early modern maritime ventures and the concept of fortune. Entitled Fortune’s Empire: Chance, Providence, and Overseas Exploration in Early Modern English Drama, this study considers how England’s nascent engagement in global commerce and exploration heightened awareness of the role of fortune in the world: as a cosmic force of chance and as an emerging understanding of wealth that was earned rather than inherited. Drawing attention to an archive of plays dramatizing maritime travel, trade, and exploration, the book shows how the theater played a vital role in shaping and critiquing these evolving understandings of fortune and cultivating proper ethical responses to new forms of economic investment.
Jane’s first book, Islamic Conversion and Christian Resistance on the Early Modern Stage (2010), explores Christian-Muslim encounter in twelve plays written by Shakespeare and his contemporaries. Focusing on the stage’s treatment of religious conversion as a sexual seduction, it demonstrates how “turning” to Islam was imagined to have physical and reproductive consequences, as well as to endanger Christian souls. Jane has published articles on topics such as the chinaware trade, shifting values of gold, imperial world history, virgin martyrdom, tragicomic drama, and Shakespeare’s foreign settings.
More broadly, Jane’s interest in the dramatic staging of religious phenomena informs her teaching, including a seminar on “Religion, Magic, and the Shakespearan Stage.” Her explorations of the relationship between popular performance and religious culture have also led to a collection of essays, coedited with Elizabeth Williamson, titled Religion and Drama in Early Modern England: The Performance of Religion on the Renaissance Stage (2011).
Religious rituals, black magic, and theatrical entertainment were linked by controversy in Shakespeare's England: were they potent acts or empty performances? How did they seduce and endanger unwitting audiences? Foregrounding the plays of Shakespeare and his contemporaries, we will explore the intersecting cultural histories of religious persecution, witchcraft trials, and movements to close down the theaters. We will consider how England's religious culture was destabilized not only by the Protestant Reformation but also by global trade and travel, which increasingly exposed the English to Islam, Judaism and other religions of the world. To what extent did audiences believe in the power of Othello's witchcraft, Prospero's conjuring, or Paulina's miraculous resurrection? Why was theatrical enactment considered so dangerous? Our focus will extend beyond the interpretation of simple representational allusions to grapple with the particular semiotics of theatrical performance. Plays include The Winter's Tale, Macbeth, The Merchant of Venice, Pericles, The Renegado, The Witch of Edmonton, Dr. Faustus, and others. Prerequisite: At least one previous literature course.