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).
Given powerful developments in scientific technology, probability, astrology, theology, and philosophy during the European Renaissance, ideas about what controlled events in the world were the source of deep and unresolved controversy. Were events ranging from unforeseen personal tragedies to economic investments to imperial rises and falls guided by chance or by an all-seeing God? Did supernatural forces exist, and if so, what form did they take? How was it possible to discern the difference between luck and God's will? And what role did human agency play in controlling events in the world? In this course we will examine the Renaissance roots of many of the same questions that exist in our own world--which, despite its secularity, remains beholden to the forces of religion, astrology, superstition, and theories of the cosmos. We will consider the influence of proto-capitalist economics on beliefs about the role of fortune in the world. We will also examine Calvinist understandings of divine intervention, the influence of secularizing institutions such as the public theater, and the various cultural and political conditions that shaped popular beliefs in early modern England. Readings will include selections from Aristotle, Lucretius, Epicurus, Bacon, Machiavelli, Montaigne, Calvin, Greville, Spinoza, and Hakluyt; plays by Heywood, Marlowe, Shakespeare, and Fletcher; and recent historical and theoretical criticism.