Catherine Nicholson

Catherine Nicholson's picture
Professor of English

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

My research focuses on early modern English literature and its reception histories. I’m particularly interested in—and enjoy teaching—texts that challenge assumptions about literary value, requiring readers to define interest, meaning, purpose, and pleasure in unfamiliar ways. My first book, Uncommon Tongues: Eloquence and Eccentricity in the English Renaissance (Penn Press, 2014), looks at the so-called “triumph of English” through the eyes of contemporary sixteenth- and seventeenth-century readers and critics, many of whom saw in the innovations of vernacular poets not the ground of a new linguistic community but the willful estrangement of the mother tongue.  My second book, Reading and Not Reading The Faerie Queene: Spenser and the Making of Literary Criticism (Princeton UP, 2020), tells the four-hundred-year story of readers’ struggles with a famously unreadable book as the chronicle of an ongoing, unresolved effort to determine what counts as reading (and what reading itself might count for).

I’m currently at work on a series of interconnected essays on early literacy, early printed books, and the earliness of what we now call early modernity, tentatively titled “The Renaissance Before Reading.” In addition to my academic writing, I am an occasional contributor to the London Review of Books, the New York Review of Books, and The Yale Review.

Selected Publications

- “Looking at Epic Poetry Through 21st-Century Eyes,” The New York Times, July 2020

Reading and Not Reading “The Faerie Queene” (Princeton University Press, 2020).

- Uncommon Tongues: Eloquence and Eccentricity in Sixteenth-Century England (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014); awarded Yale’s Heyman Prize for Outstanding Publication by a Junior Faculty Member

- “‘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: Major English Poets; Early Modern Theaters of Strangeness; Ovid’s English Renaissance; Spenser; Minor English Poets; Shakespeare: Comedies and Romances.

Graduate: Spenser and the Sixteenth Century