Mary Polito

Associate Professor (Retired)

English Department Profile  |

I have an enduring interest in the very broad topic of  the conduct of conduct, identity, ethics and early modern drama. Early on, I explored this interest through the rubric of law and literature in publications such as my 2005 book Governmental Arts in Early Tudor England. I next became enthralled by the wealth of early modern conduct literature related to success in a wide range of professions and how we twenty-first-century professionals are similarly enjoined to examine and transform ourselves and to invest such assets as our emotional capital in our work. That led to an article about the employment of Shakespeare’s leaders as exemplars in the contemporary business self-help industry: “‘Warriors for the Working Day’: Shakespeare’s Professionals.” Shakespeare. Routledge, 2.1. (2006). Three related interests merged in “Nature natured: Professionalization and Gender in All’s Well that Ends Well.” Renaissance and Reformation, Dec. 2006: how the conduct literature on professional success emphasized the careful employment of calculated risk, or ‘venture,’ as one way to success; the ways in which conduct literature for women instructed them to acquire a vast amount of expertise that would cross a number of professional boundaries in the public sphere; and how Shakespeare represents women characters with wide-ranging expertise as well as venturing spirits.

Over the last few years, I have been involved in an exciting research opportunity provided by the discovery of an anonymous seventeenth-century play in manuscript in the University of Calgary’s Osborne Collection of rare books and manuscripts. We learned that the five act comedy is represented in an earlier anonymous manuscript, extant at Arbury Hall Warwickshire (and named by T. Howard-Hill The Humorous Magistrate). The earlier version of HM is bound with three other anonymous plays. I led a SSHRC-sponsored research team of wonderful co-investigators, collaborators and graduate students in an investigation of the provenance of these plays and a circle of midland members of the gentry and geographical locations linked to them. We situated their composition in the late 1520s, 1530s and early 1640s. This research has led to a great number of conference presentations nationally and internationally as well as peer reviewed publications by faculty and graduate students. Some of our findings were published in a special issue of Early Theatre, Circles and Circuits: Drama and Politics in the Midlands, edited by me and Amy Scott; an edition of the play edited by Jacqueline Jenkins and me is in press with the Malone Society. A careful paleological analysis of a large number of manuscripts linked to Arbury Hall by graduate students Kirsten Inglis and Boyda Johnstone and published in the special issue posits that the author of The Humorous Magistrate and other plays and poems held at Arbury and elsewhere is the lawyer, MP, farmer, patron of drama and fan of Shakespeare, John Newdigate (1600-1642). This finding brings me back to my questions about professions and identity. This amateur dramatist took risks in his plays, which were overtly critical of Charles I’s personal rule; yet, professionally and as the Newdigate heir in general, he could not be called a success, though his library was full of conduct literature.

Past and Current Supervisions

  • ‘Delivered at Second Hand’: Translation, Gifting, and the Politics of Authorship in Tudor Women’s Writing. (PhD)
  • From the Headlines to the Stage: Early Modern Dramatizations of Female Deviance. (PhD)
  • The Ranters, Sexuality and Literary Response. (MA)
  • Balladry and the Shakespearean Aesthetic. (MA)
  • Prostitution, Humanism and the Renaissance Stage. (MA)
  • Dating Osborne 132.27. (MA)
  • ‘Thy registers and thee I both defy’: Shakespeare and the Play of Justice and History. (MA)

Graduate Courses Taught

  • Drama on Edge: Late Caroline Drama
  • Governing the Government in Caroline Drama
  • Professions in Early Modern City Comedy
  • History and the Early Modern History Play
  • Shakespeare, Foucault, Genealogy, Management
  • Women and\in Performance in the Early Modern Period