Henry S. Turner

research, publications, teaching

The English Renaissance Stage

ersThe English Renaissance Stage: Geometry, Poetics and the Practical Spatial Arts (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006 / paper 2010) examines the history of English dramatic form and its relationship to mathematics, technology, and early scientific thought during the Renaissance period. The book demonstrates how practical, pre-scientific modes of thinking that were typical of the sixteenth century resulted in new genres of plays and a new vocabulary for problems of poetic representation. In the epistemological moment the book describes, we find new ideas about form and language that would become central to Renaissance literary discourse; in this same moment, too, we find new ways of thinking about the relationship between theory and practice that are typical of modernity, new methods of modeling technical problems, and new attitudes about the importance of technology to the state, as well as to professional self-advancement. By emphasizing the importance of theatrical performance, the book engages with continuing debates over the ideological function of the early modern stage, with theories of performance, and with scholarship on the status of modern authorship. When we consider playwrights in relation to the theater rather than to the printed book, they appear less as “authors” than as figures whose social position and epistemological presuppositions were very similar to the craftsmen, surveyors, and engineers who began to flourish during the sixteenth century and whose mathematical knowledge made them increasingly sought after by men of wealth and power.

Honorable Mention, 2007 Michelle Kendrick Memorial Book Prize

Awarded by the Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts to the outstanding annual book in the field of interdisciplinary science studies. “The English Renaissance Stage is a major book by a major critic that will change the ways in which we read the intersections of literature and mathematics in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.”


“Magisterial….a tour de force worth slow and thoughtful reading….Turner’s readings of the plays are detailed and often brilliant.”—Jennifer Low, Comparative Drama 43.2 (Summer 2009): 273-76.

“This is interdisciplinary work of impressive ambition and range, by someone who is arguably one of the most brilliant young scholars in the world working on Renaissance literature…There is no doubt that Turner has constructed an extremely fertile thesis relating English drama and the practical mathematical arts…Turner allows us to think in new, considerably enlarged, and challenging ways about the transformative significance of the early modern practical spatial arts.” —Stephen Pumfrey, in Isis 99.3 (2008): 614-615.

“The best first book of 2006… despite occasional efforts to delineate the relationships between Renaissance poetry and science, geometry and verse have remained separate beasts in separate pastures, sundered by their divergent modern histories as well as by the formal educational divide between the trivium and quadrivium. Turner’s work forces one to revise this view of things by arguing with great cogency and detail for the deep interrelation of these two disciplines in early modern England, on the level both of theory and of practice.” —Bruce Boehrer, “Recent Studies in Tudor and Stuart Drama,” Studies in English Literature 47.2 (Spring 2007): 508-10.

“Fascinating… [an] extensively researched and scrupulously documented study, which works with considerable facility across several different disciplines.  In its synthesizing approach, The Renaissance English Stage establishes an exciting dialogue between theater history, performance theory, poetics, semiotics, historical epistemology, and materialist social analysis and critique, among other fields…Turner’s important book offers extraordinary resources for energizing the discussion of Renaissance literature, and reimagines what a materialist account of form might be and what it can contribute to our understanding of Renaissance poetics and the drama of the period.”—David Glimp, Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England 21 (2008): 281-85.

“A highly readable and substantial contribution to our understanding of early modern English drama…a convincing challenge to anachronistic views of the separation of the arts and the sciences in early modern intellectual history….In a brilliant series of connections, Turner shows the migration of terminology and concepts (such as plat, plot, forme, and figure) from the workshop to the stage and page over the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.”—John Shanahan, British Society for Literature and Science.

“Turner’s argument is sweeping; the scholarship and analysis that support it are of a very high caliber. The English Renaissance Stage impressively brings a range of scientific and philosophical resources to bear on its account of the knowledge arts of the early modern theater….Turner’s work ultimately suggests that when making, doing, and knowing become entangled with one another, even those who do not know geometry take part in its lessons….Turner’s work offers a powerful revision to how we understand early modern stage practice.”—Elizabeth Spiller, in Renaissance Quarterly 59.3 (Fall 2006): 965-67.

“A dense, rewarding study…highly suggestive, and rigorously understood…a compelling picture of the early modern stage finding a metaphor for itself in the practical arts.” —Sam Thompson, TLS November 17, 2006.

“Another important contribution to our understanding of reading habits and the organization of knowledge in England in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, examining the relationship between drama and mathematics, technology, and early scientific thought…an impressive book with a huge battery of scholarly resources marshaled to support every point and turn in the argument…Chapter 3, on Sidney, is one of the best written on the Defence of Poesy.” —Andrew Hadfield, Shakespeare Quarterly 57.4 (Winter 2006): 440-42.

“Brightly illuminates the early modern theatre’s nascent sense of its own representational powers….packed with bracing connections and suggestive interpretive possibilities.” —Eric Leonidas, The Sixteenth Century Journal 39.1 (Spring 2008): 244-46.

“Ambitious…fascinating material”—Elisabeth Dutton, Times Higher Education Supplement




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