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).
What forms did intimacy take on the Shakespearean stage, and how was it shaped by new understandings of global distance, as well as by the material and social conditions of the live theater? This course offers in-depth explorations of a wide range of Shakespeare's plays with special consideration of new forms of intimacy between lovers, spouses, friends, family members, adversaries, and strangers. In particular, we will consider how new scales and experiences of space and time transformed interpersonal relationships. For example, how did global travel, trade, and colonialism affect understandings of difference, sameness, and intimacy? How did Shakespeare's plays imagine new possibilities for intimate forms of violence, empathy, and understanding? We will address these questions through close readings of the plays, supplemented by considerations of social, economic, and scientific history. Likely readings include Antony and Cleopatra, As You Like It, The Merchant of Venice, Two Noble Kinsmen, King Lear, Troilus and Cressida, Hamlet, Othello, and Cymbeline.
Bridging Shakespeare to the twenty-first century, this course explores different forms of personal and communal trauma, and the ways that writing offers a means to redemption. By analyzing a range of novels, poetry, plays, and films, we will consider the different ways that trauma has been turned into narrative and how narrative in turn seeks to transform trauma into something else. Readings will be approached from a historical/literary perspective, and will include narrative paths that lead to healing and redemption, but also to resistance and revenge. Topics may include accidental amputation, sexual violence, war and exile, and colonial invasion. We will also think about how our responses to trauma prompt us to ask broader questions about the nature of accidents, fate, freewill, cosmic justice, and forgiveness. Students will engage in expository, creative, and analytical modes of writing. A final project will encompass each of these modes as well as a research component. Some of the primary texts may include Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus and The Tempest, Louise Erdrich's The Roundhouse, Alison Bechdel's Fun Home, Claudia Rankine's Citizen, and Jung Yun's Shelter.
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.