Dr. Joseph Harris
After my undergraduate and postgraduate study at Trinity Hall, Cambridge (10/94-03/03), I spent three years as Fellow at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge (10/03-09/06). I then got a post in the School of Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures (SMLLC) at Royal Holloway, University of London (RHUL; 09/06), where as of January 2015 I am currently Reader in Early Modern Studies. I hold various administrative positions at RHUL and beyond, including (at RHUL) Chair of Learning and Teaching Committee, Chair of Staff-Student Committee (2015-), and Student Experience and Learning Officer (2013-), and External Examiner at Kings College London and the University of Cambridge (2014-). I have also served on the committee of the Society for Seventeenth-Century French Studies as Conference Officer (2005-06; 2010-11) and Treasurer/Membership Secretary (2005-09). I have published widely on early modern French literature, especially drama; alongside my current research into death and violence, I am also interested in psychology and irrationality; reception and audience response; laughter; identification; gender, sexuality, and cross-dressing. I am currently co-editing two volumes of essays, one on ‘Anticipated Afterlives: Envisaging Posterity in Early Modern France’, the other called ‘Guilty Pleasures: Theater, Piety and Immorality in Seventeenth-Century France’. My most recent book, Inventing the Spectator, was ‘Commended’ by the Society for French Studies R. Gapper Prize committee, and was described as ‘required reading for students and scholars of French theatre, literary theory, and cultural history’ by Restoration & Eighteenth-Century Theatre Research. I am currently co-organising a comparative research network on ‘Violence and the Early Modern Stage’.
- Inventing the Spectator: Subjectivity and the Theatrical Experience in Early Modern France (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014)
- Hidden Agendas: Cross-Dressing in Seventeenth-Century France, Biblio 17 (Tübingen: Gunter Narr, 2005)
- ‘Dying of the fifth act: Corneille’s (un)natural deaths’, in French Studies 69:2 (July 2015)
- ‘D’Aubignac théoricien, d’Aubignac querelleur: les enjeux des Dissertations contre Corneille’, in Revue d’histoire du théâtre, ‘Les Théâtres institutionnels (1660-1848). Querelles, enjeux de pouvoir et production de valeurs’ (2014), 25-34
- ‘Corneille and audience identification’, MLR 104: 3 (2009), 659-75
It is a curious paradox that something as central to tragedy as death has received so little sustained critical attention. Readers, spectators, and critics alike have seemed content to take death’s presence in tragedy for granted, as the inexorable end-point of the tragic narrative. My monograph aims to plug this gap through a case-study of one immensely complex dramatist: the so-called ‘father’ of French tragedy, Pierre Corneille (1606-84). Throughout all his works – not just the few early tragedies that made his name, but also his comedies, religious poetry, dramatic theory, and ‘machine-plays’, death remains a concern that is as ambiguous and problematic as it is abiding. Far from holding a constant meaning for Corneille, death is a highly complex phenomenon which can produce quite contradictory responses. Indeed, while Corneille’s engagement with death flags up his own idiosyncratic attitude towards dramatic convention (and towards Aristotle’s Poetics in particular), it also exposes further contradictions and tensions between Corneille the playwright and Corneille the dramatic theorist. Drawing on secondary material from French and classical sources as well as on modern thought, this project will show the implication of death in a wide range of topics: from emotion (fear and despair; grief and mourning) to politics (judicial punishment and bio-power; regicide and dynastic succession), from religion (martyrdom; the Christian and pagan afterlife) to aesthetics (dramatic spectacle; plot construction and tragic theory). The Tragic Death-Wish thus poses questions that promise to challenge and to shake up the theoretical terrain of tragic theatre more generally.