Racial Fictions in Early Modern England

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My dissertation, Racial Fictions in Early Modern England, asks how race, co-constituted with gender and sexuality, animates early modern English texts. It is only in the past decade that scholarship on race in early modern literary studies has become an urgent topic of conversation, and much of the work has been limited to so called “race texts,” in which characters of color appear. I argue that race is a more capacious analytic for early modern literary studies. I theorize race in early modern England as the developing process of categorizing, including, excluding, and hierarchizing people based upon historically contingent features that become essentialized through these acts of categorizing and hierarchizing. Examining race more as a process rather than a stable category or relationship opens three important avenues of inquiry. First, it brings to light the ways in which race undergirds concepts that are central to early modern texts, such as chastity for Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene or universality for John Milton’s Paradise Lost. The hyper-visibility of these concepts often occludes if not erases the processes and preconditions of their own formations, race being one of them. Making them visible requires finding where they hide: within the language and rhetorical figures in literary texts. Second, examining race as process allows more flexibility to accommodate and explore the ways in which race forms and is formed by other facets of identity, such as gender and sexuality. Third, this conception of race as process allows scholars to track race in contexts in which it is not as easily apparent, such as the early modern period when systems of white supremacy are not as coalesced into a set of identifiable oppressive strategies and institutions. I make these arguments by reading four canonical early modern texts, three of which are not as strongly associated with race in current scholarship (William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, Christopher Marlowe’s “Hero and Leander,” and John Milton’s Paradise Lost). Ultimately, Racial Fictions asserts that race is a crucial analytic lens for reading all early modern English literary texts.

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255 pages


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Marlowe; Milton; Premodern Critical Race Studies; Queer Studies; Shakespeare; Spenser


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Union Local


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Mann, Jenny C.

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Raskolnikov, Masha
Kalas, Rayna M.
Brady, Mary Pat P.

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English Language and Literature

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Ph. D., English Language and Literature

Degree Level

Doctor of Philosophy

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Government Document




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dissertation or thesis

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