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Fruitless Work

My current research project  demonstrates the ways in which 16th-century English writers depicted non-normative forms of labor as in order to ask questions about the atatus of work in a time of great change. I look at texts such as Galatea, Arden of Faversham, Love’s Labor’s Lost, and The Amoretti, all of which depict work that functions outside of work’s usual parameters by characterizing it as failed, impossible, botched, or fruitless. Using these moment as my entry point, I argue that these texts manipulate the terms of labor in order to imagine the boundaries of what work could look like at this time.

This book comes, in part, from a dissertation that was more capacious in its scope.  That version of the project, Hardly Working in Premodern English Literature, begins in the mid fourteenth century, when the first bouts of labor legislation were enacted, and traces the engagement with variant forms of labor through the final decades of the sixteenth century, which were characterized by apprenticeship riots and an influx of idle, or unemployed, persons into the city of London. I emphasize variety—temporally, generically (pastoral, romance, epic, eclogue, comedy, tragedy), formally (long and lyric poetry, drama), contextually (courtly poems, patronage poems, popular drama and children’s theater), of authorship (anonymous poets and playwright(s), collaborative authors, canonical writers, and those whose contemporary fame has long since faded)—in order to both demonstrate the thoroughness with which these subverted forms of labor pervaded premodern society and to showcase the multitude of ways in which this manifested.

Other Projects

My article “Botched Labor and Secondhand Craft in Arden of Favershamrecovers the history of the English botchers—clothworkers who mended old clothing—in order to understand the ways in which Arden of Faversham engages botching to stage a tension between repair and destruction in its depiction of Thomas Arden’s murder. I am in the process of completing a chapter on “Work, Play, and Solitude” for the Early Modern Volume of Bloomsbury’s Cultural History of Solitude series, to be published in 2026. I also have an article that tracks the location of labor in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in order to argue about a division of cultural values that manifests in divergent treatements of work and workers in the poem, forthcoming in Arthuriana