Karen Britland

Position title: Halls-Bascom Professor of English

Email: britland@wisc.edu

6133 Helen C. White Hall

Shakespeare, early modern drama and performance, print and manuscript culture, women’s writing, the English Revolution, Anglo-Continental exchange
Karen Britland

Selected Publications

Drama at the Courts of Queen Henrietta Maria (Cambridge University Press, 2006; paperback 2009)

Textual Editions

John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi (London: A&C Black [New Mermaids]; 2020/1)

John Marston’s The Dutch Courtesan (London: Bloomsbury [Arden Early Modern Drama], 2018), xx + 276pp.

The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Ben Jonson, 7 volumes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), General Editors: Martin Butler, David Bevington, Ian Donaldson; Associate Editors: Karen Britland, Eugene Giddens

Elizabeth Cary’s The Tragedy of Mariam (London: A&C Black, 2010), xxxii + 101pp.

Critical Editions

Henry V: Continuum Renaissance Drama, ed. Karen Britland and Line Cottegnies (London: Bloomsbury, 2018), 325pp.

Profane Shakespeare: Perfection, Pollution, and the Truth of Performance, Special Edition of the online, peer-reviewed journal, Etudes Epistémè, 33 (2018), edited by Anne-Marie Miller-Blaise, Karen Britland, and Line Cottegnies: https://doi.org/10.4000/episteme.2445

Recent Articles and Book Chapters

“Aphra Behn’s First Marriage?” The Seventeenth Century (published online 4 December 2019): https://doi.org/10.1080/0268117X.2019.1693420

“Conspiring with ‘friends’: Hester Pulter’s Poetry and the Stanley Family at Cumberlow Green,” Review of English Studies, 69.292 (November 2018), 832-54: https://doi.org/10.1093/res/hgy058

“”What I Write I Do Not See’: Reading and Writing With Invisible Ink,” in Early Modern Cryptography, ed. Katherine Ellison and Susan Kim (New York: Routledge, 2018), 208-22

“Felix Kingston, Aurelian Townshend’s Ante-Masques, and the Masque at Oatlands, 1635,” Huntington Library Quarterly, 79.4 (2016), 655-75

For a full publication list, click here

Scholarship and Current Projects

I am currently working on a book about clandestine writing in the English Revolution and have published articles and given talks about cipher and invisible inks. I am also deeply interested in early modern women’s writing and have recently published work on Hester Pulter and Aphra Behn. Between 2000 and 2012, I worked, first as a research associate and then as an associate editor, on the Cambridge Complete Works of Ben Jonson edition. I have also edited Elizabeth Cary’s play, The Tragedy of Mariam, John Marston’s The Dutch Courtesan, and John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi.


I teach large lecture courses on Shakespeare and smaller undergraduate classes on Shakespeare and early modern dramatists such as Ben Jonson. In 2015, I was awarded the Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award at UW-Madison. Recent graduate classes have discussed city comedy, Shakespeare on film, and women’s writing during the English Revolution. I am happy to work with senior-thesis students and graduate students who are interested in early modern literature, particularly those whose focus will be on Shakespeare, early modern drama and/or the literature of the Stuart period.

Recent Books

  • Britland (Editor), Karen. The Duchess of Malfi. Bloomsbury, 2020. Print.

    Webster’s play is a classroom favorite, with its heroine, the Duchess of Malfi, standing out as one of the most compelling female characters on the early modern stage. This macabre masterpiece, like Shakespeare’s Hamlet, muses on the nature of the human condition, asking what, if anything, differentiates humankind from beasts; what drives some people to murder; and what comes after death. As in Hamlet, the dramatic strength of the play’s protagonist overwhelms the action; in this case, however, that protagonist is a powerful and compelling woman.

  • Britland (Editor), Karen. The Dutch Courtesan. Bloomsbury, 2018. Print.

    The Dutch Courtesan is a riotous tragicomedy that explores the delights and perils afforded by Jacobean London. While Freevill, the play’s nominal hero, frolics in the city, Franceschina, his cast-off mistress and the Dutch courtesan of the play’s title, laments his betrayal and plots revenge. Juxtaposing Franceschina’s vulnerable financial position against the unappealing marital prospects available to gentry women, the play undermines the language of romance, revealing it to be rooted in commerce and commodification. Marston’s commentary on financial insecurity and the hypocritical repudiation of foreignness makes The Dutch Courtesan truly a document for our time.

  • Britland, Karen, and Line Cottegnies (Editors). King Henry V: A Critical Reader. Bloomsbury, 2018. Print.

    This volume offers a thought-provoking guide to King Henry V, surveying the play’s rich critical and performance history, with a particular emphasis on its reputation in France as well as Britain and the US. A chapter on non-Anglophone reactions to the play, alongside new essays on British identity, religion, medieval warfare and the questioning of Henry V’s heroism, open up ground-breaking perspectives on the play. The volume also includes discussions of King Henry V’s rich theatrical and filmic heritage, and a guide to learning and teaching resources and how these might be integrated into effective pedagogic strategies in the classroom.

  • The Tragedy of Mariam, by Elizabeth Cary cover
    Britland (Editor), Karen.“The Tragedy of Mariam, by Elizabeth Cary.” 2010: n. pag. Print.

    The Tragedy of Mariam, the Fair Queen of Jewry is a Jacobean closet drama by Elizabeth Tanfield Cary. First published in 1613, it was the first work by a woman to be published under her real name. Never performed during Cary’s lifetime, and apparently never intended for performance, the Senecan revenge tragedy tells the story of Mariam, the second wife of Herod. The play exposes and explores the themes of sex, divorce, betrayal, murder, and Jewish society under Herod’s tyrannous rule. A new introduction includes recent criticism and new developments in theatre history and scholarship. A more substantial performance history is given, including accounts of recent screen versions.

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  • Drama at the Courts of Queen Henrietta Maria cover
    Britland, Karen.“Drama at the Courts of Queen Henrietta Maria.” 2006: n. pag. Print.

    Drama at the Courts of Queen Henrietta Maria considers Queen Henrietta Maria’s patronage of drama in England in the light of her French heritage. Karen Britland challenges a common view of Henrietta Maria as a meddlesome and frivolous woman whose actions contributed to the outbreak of the English civil wars by showing how she was consistent in her allegiances to her family and friends, and how her cultural and political positions were reflected in the plays and court masques she sponsored. Unlike previous studies, this book considers the queen’s upbringing at the French court and her later exile in France during the English civil wars, and is therefore able to challenge received notions about her activities in England during the 1630s. Karen Britland employs innovative research by combining discussions of literary texts with historical and archival research and discussions of art, architecture and music.

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