My current book project Poetry, Desire, and Devotional Performance, 1609-1667 analyzes the ways models of devotional performance shaped expressions of intimacy and desire in the poetry of five Renaissance English writers: Shakespeare, Donne, Greville, Herrick, and Milton. Rather than reading the body as antagonistic to inward spiritual and erotic life, as many scholars of early modern religious history have done, I argue that post-Reformation views of worship and prayer revolutionized the way those in the Renaissance understood the body’s role in the cultivation of devotion, intimacy, and affect. After the Reformation, I maintain that the body became the central means by which Renaissance men and women could materially ascertain and verify their spiritual connection to God.
My project reads poetic expressions of desire within the contexts of two post-Reformation religious arenas: the official ceremonies of the English church and the popular predestinarian theology that emphasized the importance of using bodily signs to gauge inward devotion. While religious historians often treat state-sanctioned worship and popular devotional practices as contradictory or antagonistic, I demonstrate that both cultural arenas reveal one important commonality: each sought to prioritize the body as the most important means for verifying one’s intimate access—not only vis-à-vis God, but also to a varied cast of love interests: dead wives, standoffish mistresses, exes, whores, homoerotic boy lovers, and even Satan play distinct parts as both antagonists and objects of longing. Whether in the official ceremonies of the English church or the many informal devotional practices advocated by popular religious writers, early modern worshippers found that their bodily experience played a vital role both in their public expressions of religious conviction and in their private devotional lives. The growing emphasis on the interpretive value of spiritual experience placed the sensible, desiring, feeling body at the center of English devotional practice. Under the reigns of Elizabeth and James, the individual had the freedom—and obligation—to regard himself as principal actor, spectator, and interpreter in his personal spiritual drama.
My second book project is a study of cultural violence and ancestral memory in the aftermath of the English Reformation. As England moved toward establishing a new national Protestant identity, I’m interested in exploring the ancestral and family memories and identities that were lost or forgotten in that process. From More’s Utopia to Shakespeare’s The Tempest, I explore how religious change and transformation disrupted and facilitated memorial access to one’s own ancestral past.
I am currently working on article manuscripts on materiality and erotic desire in the poetry of Donne, Sidney, and Mary Wroth. I’m also researching article-length projects on creative legacy in Milton and Blake, and political resistance in Shakespeare’s King John and the homilies of the state church of England.