Dr Hannah Crawforth
What is your role at King's and within the London Shakespeare Centre?
I started as a Lecturer at King’s in September 2009 shortly after finishing my PhD at Princeton. I co-teach several modules on Shakespeare and Renaissance studies, including the first-year introduction to 'Early Modern Literary Culture', 'Elizabethan Shakespeare' and, at MA level, 'Working with Early Modern Literary Texts'. I also convene a graduate course on' Family Politics in Early Modern England', which examines the vexed relationships between generations against the backdrop of religious strife and civil war in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, along with the third-year module, 'Shakespeare in London'. The latter is an innovative new course that includes visits to sites of historical interest, theatre trips, film screenings and several practical workshops at the Globe Theatre. I worked on a special new project called ‘Mapping Shakespeare’s London’, for which I received an innovation grant from the College Teaching Fund. Students helped me to compile a website charting key locations in Shakespeare’s city, for use by the general public and local schools.
What first drew you to Shakespeare and Early Modern studies?
I have always had a wide range of literary interests, and came to Early Modern studies late. After going to to the US to undertake archival research on modernist writers publishing in fashion magazines (which included a brief spell researching at the Vogue offices in New York) I was lucky to take a graduate class at Princeton with Leonard Barkan, on 'Renaissance Word and Image'. I suddenly found that under Professor Barkan’s invigorating tuition the whole world of Early Modern literature and culture began to open itself up to me. I was particularly inspired by our study of The Rae of Lucrece, and wrote a crashingly naive and overly long paper about the religious and political context of the poem, which I should probably burn. But my interest in the Early Modern period was ignited, and even the shoes in the Condé Nast cafeteria now seemed unappealing by comparison. I decided to stay on at Princeton, write a PhD on Early Modern etymology, and that was that. I thought my current research was about as far from Vogue as it’s possible to get – although I have been reliably informed that glamour and grammar are etymologically related!
What are you currently working on? How does your research inform what we do at the London Shakespeare Centre?
My current work includes a new textual edition of Two Noble Kinsmen for the Norton Shakespeare series, a task that has led me to examine in detail the work of an Early Modern printer called Thomas Cotes. Exploring documentary evidence about Cotes’s output – which included the printing of the second Folio of Shakespeare’s plays – has really brought to life the world of the Renaissance printing house for me. I draw upon this understanding when teaching the MA core course on Working with Early Modern Literary Texts, and more broadly - in a lecture I give on Titus Andronicus and the print culture of Shakespeare’s London, for example.
I am also writing a book on how Renaissance authors thought about the history of their own language. Containing chapters on Gascoigne, Spenser, Jonson, Andrewes, and Milton, I argue that the particular linguistic virtuosity of the English Renaissance, the fondness of its authors for elaborate wordplay and puns, resulted from the birth of linguistics as a discipline in this period. My work on this topic underpins all of my teaching, and reconnecting words with the senses they held in the Early Modern period is essential for enabling students to access the meaning of its texts. My new course on 'Renaissance Wordplay' addresses some of these issues directly, looking at the particular linguistic and rhetorical resources that give Early Modern literature its distinctive complexity and brilliance.
What do your students get out of studying Shakespeare and his contemporaries?
In my unbiased opinion, simply studying some of the best poetry, drama and prose ever written! Virginia Woolf described Elizabethan writing as if ‘thought had plunged into a sea of words and came up dripping’. I honestly cannot think of a more exciting period to study, given the political and religious upheavals of the time. This was the moment in which so many of our modern institutions were formed, but which was intimately engaged with its own past as well. I try to encourage my students to think about how these texts shaped our culture, and how Early Modern culture shaped these texts. More important still for me is the way Renaissance writers use language – I will never forget spending a two-hour seminar on a two-line epigram by John Donne as an undergraduate – and hope that my students leave my classes with even some small sense of how much meaning can be packed into how few words. This kind of close attention to language will equip them for many different experiences, at King’s and in the wider world.
What are the most rewarding aspects of teaching Shakespeare in London?
For me, one of the best aspects of teaching Shakespeare in London is the close partnerships we at King’s have formed with some of the major cultural institutions in the city. Watching our MA students at the British Library being taught how to handle original manuscripts of poems by Donne and Ben Jonson, still in the city in which they were first written, is extremely invigorating. In my 'Shakespeare in London' class it’s wonderful to be able to step outside of the College and within a few minutes’ walk to be standing in Middle Temple Hall with my students, where Twelfth Night was first performed. Understanding the city in which Shakespeare and his contemporaries wrote is key to understanding their texts, and it’s tremendous to have it all just outside our window.
Does your work involve collaboration with any of our external partners? what have been the benefits of working in collaboration with others?
Our relationship with the Globe is very stimulating, and co-teaching Shakespeare in London with their education department has been a unique opportunity - my students are currently the only undergraduates in the country who get to undertake these sessions at the theatre. It's exciting for them, and for me. My undergraduates felt that spending time on the stage at the Globe undertaking a workshop with an actor and learning how the Early Modern playhouse worked completely transformed their understanding of Shakespeare’s plays.
Like many researchers, the British Library is absolutely central to what I do. Many of the texts I work with are unavailable in modern editions, and the resources of the BL are absolutely phenomenal. I also try to attend as many performances of plays by Shakespeare and his contemporaries at the Globe and elsewhere – seeing and hearing these works onstage can totally transform one’s sense of them.
Is there anything you'd like to say to students thinking about applying to study with us at King's?
Get in touch with us! Everyone at King’s is very approachable, and would be happy to hear from you. We recognize that living in London as a student can be challenging, and do everything we can to support our students and make sure they have the resources they need. Make sure to visit the MA and PhD pages on this website and – most of all – to listen to the podcasts featuring current students, who will tell you all about the experience of being at King’s.
To view Dr Hannah Crawforth's academic profile click here.