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Reading Literature Historically

Drama and Poetry from Chaucer to the Reformation

Greg Walker

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Pioneer of early-modern literary historicism reads Medieval & early Tudor drama & poetry historically

How far should we try to read medieval and early modern texts historically? Does the attempt to uncover how such texts might have been received by their original readers and audiences uncover new, hitherto unexpected contemporary resonances in them? Or does it flatten works of art into mere ‘secondary sources’ for historical analysis? This book makes the case for the study of literature in context. It demonstrates the value of historical and cultural analysis alongside traditional literary scholarship for enriching our understanding of plays and poems from the medieval and early Tudor past and of the cultures which produced and received them. It equally accepts the risks involved in that kind of study.

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About the Author

Greg Walker is Regius Professor of Rhetoric and English Literature at the University of Edinburgh. Among his publications are John Skelton and the Politics of the 1520s (Cambridge UP, 1988, pbk, 2002), Plays of Persuasion: Drama and Politics at the Court of Henry VIII (CUP, 1991, pbk, 2009.), The Politics of Performance in Early Renaissance Drama (CUP, 1998, pbk, 2006), Medieval Drama: An Anthology (Blackwell, pbk, 2000), Alexander Korda, The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933) (I.B. Tauris, 2003), Writing Under Tyranny: English Literature and the Henrician Reformation (Oxford UP, 2005, pbk and on-line editions, 2007), The Oxford Handbook of Medieval Literature in English (co-edited with E.M. Treharne, OUP, 2010), The Oxford Handbook of Tudor Drama (co-edited with Thomas Betteridge, OUP, 2012), and over fifty articles and essays in journals and edited collections.


Walker continues to affirm his position as one of our foremost scholars of early sixteenth-century literature.

- Marion Turner, Jesus College, Oxford, Literature & History, Volume 22, Number 2
Walker presents a lucid examination of the ways literature can reveal, contribute to, and even complicate the social and political debates of the period during which it is written.
- Lee Templeton, North Carolina Wesleyan College, The Sixteenth Century Journal