Karen Britland

Halls-Bascom Professor of English


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)


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.

Recent Articles and Book Chapters

“Recent Studies of the Life and Cultural Influence of Queen Henrietta Maria,” English Literary Renaissance,45.2 (2015), 303-21

“Psalm 140 and Diana’s Crux in All’s Well That Ends Well,” Notes and Queries, 61.2 (2014),241-4

“Reading Between the Lines: Royalist Letters and Encryption in the English Civil Wars,” Critical Quarterly,15.4 (2014), 15-26

“Henry Killigrew and Dramatic Patronage at the Stuart Courts,” in Thomas Killigrew (1612–1683), ed. Philip Major (London: Ashgate, 2013)

“‘My God! Madam, There Must Be Only One Black Figure In This Play’: Hamlet, Ophelia and the Romantic Hero,” Shakespeare and Romanticism, ed. Joseph M. Ortiz (London: Ashgate, 2013)

For a full publication list, click here

Biography and Current Projects

I received a BA from the University of Oxford and a half-blue for Women’s Lightweight Rowing. At the time, it was impossible to decide which was most important. I then completed an MA thesis under the supervision of Diane Purkiss at the University of Reading, and was awarded AHRC-funded Ph.D. place to work with Martin Butler at the University of Leeds. I also received a Leverhulme Trust fellowship to complete research for my dissertation project in Paris (for which Professor Butler was truly grateful because it got me away from York City Rowing Club). Before arriving at UW-Madison in 2008, I worked as a faculty member in the English department at Keele University, and between 2000 and 2012, I was involved, first as a research associate and then as an associate editor, on the Cambridge Complete Works of Ben Jonson edition. I have published a book and articles on a number of early modern women, and have edited Elizabeth Cary’s play, The Tragedy of Mariam, in a New Mermaids edition. I am particularly interested in feminist and gender theories and my work is deeply concerned with the multitudinous ways in which, as literary scholars, we approach and read texts. I am currently working on a book about clandestine writing in the English Revolution and have recently published articles and given talks about cipher and invisible inks. I am also a keen editor: in 2016, I will deliver my edition of John Marston’s The Dutch Courtesan to Arden and begin work on an edition of John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi for New Mermaids.


I teach large lecture courses on Shakespeare and smaller-group 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 Shakespeare, city comedy, and “bloody women.” 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 drama and/or the post-1603 period.

Recent Books

  • The Tragedy of Mariam, by Elizabeth Cary cover
    Britland (Editor), K. The Tragedy of Mariam, by Elizabeth Cary. Methuen Drama, 2010.

    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, K. Drama at the Courts of Queen Henrietta Maria. Cambridge University Press, 2006.

    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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