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Practice Job Talk by Stephen Spiess




PhD English Language and Literature





Shakespeare's Whore: Language, Prostitution, and Knowledge in Early Modern England

Narratives of prostitution, both cultural and scholarly, have tended towards fixity - the 'world's oldest profession' as transhistorical, transcultural, and transparent presence. Shakespeare's Whore, by contrast, illustrates the immense cultural labor necessary to produce and sustain the fiction of the whore as a stable, legible, and fixed object of knowledge in early modern England. In this book project, I demonstrate how 'prostitute,' 'whore,' and a range of related names, rather than consistent entities against which other identities and relations might be defined, open onto basic questions of knowledge and signification - of how meanings are made, and how knowledge is produced - in the period. These include, for example, how early moderns might know and define one another in language; how words attach to bodies, and whether such attachments be resisted; how and whether one can read 'sex' on the early modern body; and how Shakespeare's drama works to remember and forget the histories of London prostitution, including its suppression by royal proclamation under Henry VIII in 1546, and subsequent persistence well into the seventeenth century. In pursuing these questions, I will provide an historical overview of my current project, focusing especially on the methodological assumptions that inform my literary critical approach, as well as its relevance to studies of early modern literature and culture, to the history of sexuality, and to the emerging field of historical epistemology, among others. I will conclude with a brief overview of my applied readings and plans for future study. 

Start Time: 1/22/2014  1 PM
Location: 3222 Angell Hall
Contact: seniav@umich.edu
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