James A. Knapp
Graduate Programs Director
Specialty Area: British literature of the 16th and 17th centuries, Shakespeare, the history of the book, literature and visual culture, literary and aesthetic theory
Office #: Crown Center 423
My research and teaching focus on the way cultural forms evolve over time as material conditions change and artists imagine new ways to respond to their lived experience. This interest has led me to explore both the material archive of books, manuscripts, and ephemera that has preserved the texts of earlier periods as well as the history of ideas that are contained within those texts. The productive interaction between the physical form of a book with its literary contents reveals much about the moment in which it was produced. This was the subject of my first book, Illustrating the Past in Early Modern England, in which I analyzed the relationship between visual illustrations and text in works of history printed in the sixteenth century in England. I then went on to write about the way vision and visual images were used figuratively to shape the poetics of two of the period’s major figures: Shakespeare and Edmund Spenser. In Image Ethics in Shakespeare and Spenser, I argue that changing attitudes toward visual representation in Reformation England led poets to invoke visual experience in complex ways with powerful ethical implications. My focus on experience has led to me to read early modern literary texts alongside works of phenomenology. In my most recent book, Immateriality and Early Modern English Literature, I examine the way early modern writers sought to reconcile material experience with beliefs about the importance of the immaterial realm—of unseen forces, ideas, spirits, the soul, and God.
I regularly teach courses in Shakespeare and early modern literature, and my teaching is always deeply intertwined with my research. Other courses I have taught include textual studies, literary theory, aesthetics, and introduction to literature. My courses combine an interest in big questions with a method that emphasizes close reading and attention to historical context. Sometimes this means focusing on a very specific moment in literary history, as when I taught a graduate seminar on the decades leading up to the publication of René Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy. Alternately, I have explored ideas over long periods. This was the approach I used in two separate undergraduate honors tutorials, first on the concept of “beauty” and then on “time.” In those courses we began with Medieval and early modern works and ended with contemporary novels. I see the value of studying literature in its ability to offer a venue for the exploration of the critical social, political, and cultural concerns of the day. Whether I am teaching early modern authors like Shakespeare or contemporary poetry or prose, I emphasize how literature speaks to our present moment.
BA, Philosophy, Drew University
MA, English Literature, Temple
PhD, English Literature, University of Rochester
British literature of the 16th and 17th centuries; Shakespeare; phenomenology; the history of the book; literature and visual culture; literary and aesthetic theory.
Immateriality and Early Modern English Literature: Shakespeare, Donne, Herbert (Edinburgh University Press, forthcoming).
Shakespeare and the Power of the Face, editor. (Ashgate, 2015).
Image Ethics in Shakespeare and Spenser (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).
Illustrating the Past in Early Modern England: The Representation of History in Printed Books (Ashgate, 2003).
Selected Articles and Book Chapters:
“Looking at and Through Pictures in Donne’s Lyrics,” in The Art of Picturing in Early Modern English Literature, ed. Camilla Caporicci and Armelle Sabatier. New York: Routledge, forthcoming.
“Time and the Other in Cymbeline,” in The Routledge Companion to Shakespeare and Philosophy, ed. Craig Bourne and Emily Caddick Bourne. New York: Routledge, 2019, 408-422.
“Beyond Materiality in Shakespeare Studies.” Literature Compass, vol. 11, no.10, 2014, pp. 677-690.
“Richard II’s ‘Silent, Tortured Soul'" in Shakespeare and Continental Philosophy. Edited by Jennifer Bates and Richard Wilson. Edinburgh University Press, 2014, pp. 94-118.
“’Tis insensible then’?: Language and Action in 1 Henry IV,” in The Return of Theory in Early Modern Studies, vol. 2. Edited by Paul Cefalu, Gary Kuchar, and Bryan Reynolds. Palgrave, 2014, pp. 185-206.
“Mental Bodies in Much Ado About Nothing” in Embodied Cognition in Shakespeare’s Theatre: The Early Modern Body-Mind. Edited by Laurie Johnson, Lyn Tribble, and John Sutton. Routledge, 2014, pp. 86-103.
“The Illustrations to the 1577 edition,” in The Oxford Handbook to Holinshed’s Chronicles. Edited by Paulina Kewes, Ian Archer, Felicity Heal, and Henry Summerson. Oxford University Press, 2013, pp. 111-32.
“Phenomenology and Images: Static and Transformative Images in Shakespeare’s Dramatic Art.” Criticism, vol.54, no. 3, 2012, pp. 377-89.
“Penitential Ethics in Measure for Measure,” Shakespeare and Religion. Edited by Ken Jackson and Arthur Marotti. University of Notre Dame Press, 2011, pp. 256-85.
“A Shakespearean Phenomenology of Moral Conviction,” in Shakespeare and Moral Agency. Edited by Michael Bristol. Continuum, 2010, pp. 29-41.
“Visual and Ethical Truth in The Winter’s Tale,” Shakespeare Quarterly, vol. 55, no. 3, Fall 2004, pp. 253-78.