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Holly A. Crocker, "Eleanor Cobham, Feminist Subjectivity, and the Problem of the Pre/Modern”

Thursday, October 12, 2023 at 5:00pm

G64 Goldwin Smith Hall, Kaufmann Auditorium 232 Feeney Way, Ithaca, NY 14853

The Paul Gottschalk Memorial Lecture:

"Eleanor Cobham, Feminist Subjectivity, and the Problem of the Pre/Modern” by Holly A. Crocker

This lecture considers medieval and early modern representations of Eleanor Cobham to argue for an expanded story of selfhood across premodern England. Depicted as a witch more than a decade before she was convicted of witchcraft, Eleanor Cobham became one of the most controversial figures in late medieval and Tudor literary history. Every fifteenth-century English chronicle includes the story of her downfall, and later medieval ballads present her as a figure whose demise confirms the dangers of Fortune. In Tudor writings, her story becomes tragic, and she remains sympathetic, even if, in Shakespeare’s 2 Henry VI, she conjures a spirit to bring about the king’s death. By recounting Eleanor Cobham’s destruction, writers of what I argue is a unified literary/historical era grapple with the unchecked ambitions of a powerful woman. Rather than showing how women are excluded from a new story of self, which we still identify with early modernity, representations of Eleanor Cobham demonstrate the costs of a model of selfhood that is defined by agency, bound by desire, and checked by intention. By contrast, her repeated literary downfall attests to the importance of what I identify as “feminist subjectivity,” or a vulnerable formulation of selfhood that arises from embodied experiences associated with women across this period.
Holly A. Crocker is Carolina Distinguished Professor of English and Faculty Leader of the Humanities Collaborative at the University of South Carolina. She is author or editor of five books, a special journal issue, and over thirty articles and essays in medieval and early modern literature, feminism, posthumanism, and virtue ethics. Her most recent book, The Matter of Virtue: Women’s Ethical Action from Chaucer to Shakespeare (Penn, 2019), won the 2022 Jerome E. Singerman Prize for the best second book in medieval studies from the Medieval Academy of America. Currently she is completing a book, The Feminist Subject of Late Medieval Literature, editing an essay cluster for Studies in the Age of Chaucer on “Reconsidering the Subject,” and co-editing (with Carissa Harris) an essay cluster on “Theorizing Gender, Patriarchy, and Liberation: Imani Perry’s Vexy Thing and Medieval Studies,” for Exemplaria. 
She was a Fulbright Senior Lecturer and Research Fellow at Goethe Universität, Frankfurt am Main (2011-2012), she was a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities (IASH) at the University of Edinburgh (2013; 2015; 2017), and she was a Visiting Research Scholar at Vanderbilt University (2014-2015). She won the English Department’s Teaching Award (2007-8), and she has twice received the William Richey Faculty Mentor Award for graduate students at USC (2008-9; 2009-10). In 2016 she won the Russell Award for Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences, the highest award for research at the U of SC.

Q & A to follow lecture


The Gottschalk Memorial Lecture was established in memory of Paul Gottschalk, Professor of English at Cornell, scholar of British Renaissance literature and author of The Meanings of Hamlet (1972). He died in 1977 at the age of 38.

This event is presented by the Department of Literatures in English

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cascal, cashum, engl, fgsscal, Medieval studies

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