Henry S. Turner

research, publications, teaching

Ongoing and Upcoming

I have an enduring interest in the life and work of Ben Jonson and am editing Jonson’s Poetaster for the forthcoming Routledge Anthology of Early Modern Drama, ed. Jeremy Lopez. The play conducts an extraordinary theatrical experiment in living poetry, bringing first Ovid, then Horace, and finally Virgil on stage to read English translations of their own works. What is the function of these personations of the classical literary canon, whom Jonson transports to an Augustine Rome that looks so similar to Jacobean London? What stylistic, generic, and intellectual values do they represent, and what purposes do they serve in Jonson’s evolving theatrical economy? When Augustus banishes Ovid and elevates Virgil to a poetic throne, inviting him to recite passages from his Aeneid directly to a gathered court, what is the effect of the mimetic doubling that represents a textual tradition as a live poetic performance with the power to challenge the authority of the sovereign? This edition presents what is arguably Jonson’s most canonical play in order to help students study problems are central to the institution of early modern drama more generally: the ethical claims of poetics, the political challenge that absolutism posed to an emerging literary field, the social power of performative speech, and the rewards and dangers of a newly public language.

I am also beginning work on a short book, tentatively entitled Shakespeare’s Art: Value, Judgment, and Experience in the Plays, that approaches Shakespeare’s plays as theatrical essays by exploring their affinities with the pragmatist philosophy of Charles Sanders Peirce, Kenneth Burke, William James, and John Dewey. The book pursues the hypothesis that the philosophical claims about truth, experience, and value that are typical of American pragmatism can illuminate some of the key philosophical problems of Shakespeare’s plays; conversely, Shakespeare can teach us new lessons about pragmatism as a philosophy of art: one that establishes its truth claims through a theory of experience that is fundamentally dramatic and that issues not onto the suspension of knowledge (the skepticism of Cavell) but rather onto the creation of new knowledge through what I call “the art of creative generalization”—a technique of thinking-in-action that is in some sense pre-disciplinary, in that it is employed in many domains of inquiry, from rhetoric, poetics, and ethics to medicine, law, and technology, among others.

Thinking about applying to graduate school in English Literature? You really need to look at Rutgers. At a moment when many programs are scaling back funding and pushing five year degrees, Rutgers guarantees six full years of funding for all our admitted students, a package that includes three full years of fellowship (in the first, fifth, and sixth years, with opportunities for more). Plus mentored teaching, superb faculty across all historical periods, fantastic, happy graduate students, and distinguished alumni. The result? One of the best PhD placement records in the country.

Thinking about applying to graduate school in Renaissance / Early Modern? You really need to look at Rutgers! It’s one of the strongest areas of a strong department, with six full-time tenured faculty who cover the entire period comprehensively, from the late 15th century to the Restoration. Four Shakespeareans, two Miltonists, a Spenserian, two Baconians, and two Jonson specialists, working on many different areas of early modern letters and culture: Spenser, pastoral, women’s writing, 16th and 17th century lyric, literature and the English Revolution, humanism, the Bible and the Reformation, book history and the history of reading, race, Islam and postcolonial theory, feminism, theater and performance, literature and science, hermeticism, theories of fiction and poetics, law and literature, intellectual history, theory and philosophy, and political thought. Browse the faculty pages to get a sense of our current work.

Congratulations to Debapriya Sarkar (English Department, Hendrix College) whose 2014 PhD from Rutgers English, “Possible Knowledge: Forms of Literary and Scientific Thought in Early Modern England,” was just awarded the 2015 J. Leeds Barroll Dissertation Prize from the Shakespeare Association of America. Debapriya’s essay, “‘Sad Experiment’ in Paradise Lost: Epic Knowledge and Evental Poetics,” Exemplaria 26.4 (Winter 2014): 368-88 also just won the 2015 Schachterle Essay Prize from the Society for Literature Science and the Arts.

Debapriya joins Chris Crosbie (NC State; Rutgers 2008; 2009 SAA winner) and Scott Trudell (Univ. of Maryland; Rutgers 2012; 2012 SAA Honorable Mention) as the third Rutgers student to be recognized by the SAA’s annual Dissertation Award.

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