Catherine Nicholson

Assistant Professor of English

Address: LC 414
Phone: 203-432-2243
CV | Office hours

Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania, 2008
M.Phil., Cambridge University, 2002
B.A., Williams College, 2000

I teach courses in Renaissance English literature, with a particular focus on sixteenth-century poetry, prose, and drama.  I’m drawn to sixteenth-century literature for self-consciousness and strangeness of its ambitions – throughout the period, a widespread preoccupation with the nature and value of literary English gives rise to formal experiments that test the boundaries of vernacularity and the traditional functions of eloquence.  My first book, Uncommon Tongues: Eloquence and Eccentricity in Sixteenth-Century England (University of Pennsylvania Press, forthcoming in 2013), highlights the estrangement of English within both the literature and the literary theories of the sixteenth century, as the rhetoric of commonality gives way to fantasies of alienation, errancy, and exile.   In distinction to the large body of criticism identifying Renaissance literature with the emergence of a newly coherent national identity, I suggest that the champions of literary English position themselves and their writing at a willful distance from the ideal of linguistic community.

Thinking about the risks and rewards of stylistic estrangement has led me to consider other un- or anti-social impulses within Renaissance literature.  One recent essay reads Shakespeare’s Sonnets as a skeptical analysis of the Erasmian vision of rhetorical abundance, or copia, and a new project, tentatively titled “Spenser’s Private Parts,” takes up the familiar subject of that poet’s public ambition from the perspective of his perverse and paradoxical tendency to withhold himself from his readers, hinting by diverse means that what we are reading is not, in fact, for our eyes.


--Uncommon Tongues: Eloquence and Eccentricity in Sixteenth-Century England (University of Pennsylvania Press, forthcoming in 2013)

-- “‘Working Words’?: Marlowe and the Limits of Rhetoric,” Marlowe in Context, ed. Emily Bartels and Emma Smith (Cambridge University Press, 2013).

--“Englishing Eloquence: Vernacular Rhetorics and Poetics,” The Oxford Handbook of Renaissance Prose, ed. Andrew Hadfield (Oxford University Press, 2013)

--“Commonplace Shakespeare: Value, Vulgarity, and the Poetics of Increase in Shake-speare’s Sonnets and Trolius and Cressida,” The Oxford Handbook of Shakespeare’s Poetry and Poetics, ed. Jonathan Post (Oxford University Press, 2013)

--“Othello and the Geography of Persuasion,” English Literary Renaissance 40:1 (Winter 2010); awarded the 2010 prize for best article in ELR

--“Pastoral in Exile: Spenser and the Poetics of English Alienation,” Spenser Studies 23 (2008)

UNDERGRADUATE COURSES: Major English Poets, Early Modern Theaters of Strangeness