Research Seminar: Professor Lorna Hutson (University of St Andrews)

‘Circumstantial Shakespeare’

Wednesday 3 June, 2.00 – 3.30 pm
Watson Seminar Room, Kennedy Hall, School of English 

For a joint event between the Centre for Mediaeval and Early Modern Law and Literature and The Early Modern Society, Lorna Hutson, Berry Professor of English at the University of St Andrews, will lead a seminar on her most recent book Circumstantial Shakespeare.


Shakespeare’s characters are thought to be his greatest achievement – imaginatively autonomous, possessed of depth and individuality. This view has survived the deconstruction of ‘Shakespeare as Author’ and has been revitalized by the recent emphasis on the collaborative nature of early modern theatre. But belief in the autonomous imaginative life of Shakespeare’s characters depends on another unexamined myth: the myth that Shakespeare rejected neoclassicism, playing freely with theatrical time and place.  Circumstantial Shakespeare dismantles these myths. Drawing on classical and sixteenth-century rhetorical pedagogy, it reveals the importance of topics of circumstance (Time, Place and Motive, etc.) in the conjuring of compelling narratives and vivid mental images (enargeia). ‘Circumstances’ – which we now think of as incalculable contingencies – were originally topics of forensic inquiry into human intention or passion. Shakespeare used these topics to imply offstage actions, times and places in terms of the motives and desires we attribute to the characters.


‘Introduction’ and chapter 2, ‘Imaginary Work’: Opportunity in Lucrece and in King Lear.

Photocopies of these materials will be available for collection from the School of English Office in Castle House, The Scores from Wednesday 27 May.

Lorna’s interests are in the rhetorical bases of Renaissance literature, and in the relationship between literary form and the formal aspects of non-literary culture. Recent work includes the delivery of the Oxford Wells Shakespeare Lectures, 2012, on ‘Circumstantial Shakespeare’, the editing of Ben Jonson’s Discoveries (1641) for the Cambridge Complete Works of Ben Jonson (2012) and The Invention of Suspicion: Law and Mimesis in Shakespeare and Renaissance Drama (OUP, 2007, pbk 2011), which won the Roland Bainton Prize for Literature in 2008. She is currently working, with Bradin Cormack, on the Oxford Handbook of English Law and Literature, 1500-1700, and directs CMEMLL, the Centre for Mediaeval and Early Modern Law and Literature.


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