I work at the intersection of literary criticism, cultural studies, and theater history and am interested most broadly in popular entertainment cultures. Below are some of my current and future research projects. For published work, see my publications.
Imitating Difference: Renaissance Entertainment Culture and the Ethics of Popular Form
My dissertation and first book project broadly considers how formal theatrical technologies have ethical stakes by examining the role of imitation in English Renaissance popular culture. Studies have examined popular culture in relation to the commercial drama of Shakespeare and his contemporaries, but little attention has been paid to the equally popular forms of puppetry, clowning, and animal performance that rivalled and outlasted it. As emblems of popular culture writ large, these forms illustrate how popular culture, imitation, and marginalized identities share a socially subordinate position in early modern rhetoric. As the project unfolds, liturgical puppets of Christ that bleed wine confuse imitation and idolatry in reformist attacks on religious difference. As clown actors appropriate disabled bodies and animal performers emblematize bodily difference, they reveal imitation’s hierarchizing processes. Chapters engage religion, disability, gender, and race as sites where the accessibility of popular culture makes it a ready metaphor for expressing identity and power relations. As I consider how representational technologies encode power structures, I aim to both widen our definition of Renaissance theatricality and consider the cultural stakes of imitation in everyday life.
Magic & Medicine on the Early Modern Stage
My second planned book project expands my interest in popular theatrical technologies into the history of science to consider the slippage between magic and medicine as embodied theater. Magic and medicine overlap in several different kinds of performances that chart how changing bodies are represented on stage. In late medieval drama, the stock figure of the quack doctor revives dead characters on the stage, destabilizing the theatrical conventions that distinguish live and dead bodies. In streets and plays like Jonson’s Volpone, mountebanks travel with clowns who perform illness to demonstrate the curative powers of the drugs for sale, but the drugs’ effectiveness is often an illusion and techniques for feigning illness—like consuming massive quantities of butter to line the stomach—could sometimes produce real illness. London hospitals, like those depicted in The Changeling and The Honest Whore, also functioned as both medical and theatrical spaces as visitors paid to observe the antics of their mentally ill residents, whose presumed madness was often linked in the cultural imagination to supernatural forces. The gendered force of supernatural knowledge is embodied by the witches that populate Renaissance drama like John Ford’s The Witch of Edmonton and the literature surrounding the persecution of women as witches. Literary witches offering magic as medicine represent fantastical versions of the real scientific knowledge developed by women in domestic spaces as cooks, brewers, and ad hoc nurses. Together, these performances illustrate the overlap between magic and medicine as cultural discourses in the ways that they are deployed onstage in similar ways to similar effects.