Jean Howard

George Delacorte Professor in the Humanities

Columbia University

Heyman Center Fellow 2016-17

Project Description:

Jean Howard’s current project, “Staging History: Forging the Body Politic,” examines the theatrical processes by which British and American playwrights stage local, national and planetary histories and in doing so create public understandings of who is part of these histories and on what terms. Exploring Shakespeare’s history plays as dynamic precursors of modern and contemporary stagings of national history, this book charts the various ways in which British and American playwrights have used the history play to dissect, critique, and reimagine the acceptable contours of the body politic. Howard uses body politic as a key term both because it has a history stretching back to the fifteenth century as a word for corporate and social belonging and because it plays on the metaphor of the social body that can be mutilated, wounded, healed or strengthened as it expels or embraces those deemed friends or enemies, valued limbs or waste material. In the history play, no struggle is more urgent than that over who will be included in this body politic, and staged history, by putting competing speakers into immediate conversation, vividly enacts the dynamics of social contestation. Arguing that Shakespeare helped invent the modern history play, Howard explore the various ways in which the genre has been recast and reimagined for the modern stage by playwrights such as Howard Brenton, Caryl Churchill, Tony Kushner, and Suzan-Lori Parks. Howard used the time granted by the fellowship to make progress on several aspects of my project, and was able to make progress on a chapter on Caryl Churchill, the 20/21st century British dramatist who has experimented with the history play as an artistic form since the beginning of her theatrical career in the 1970s. She presented this chapter to the Fellows in the spring and benefitted greatly from the feedback they provided. Howard writes, “I am grateful to the Heyman Center for its sponsorship of my work and enjoyed immensely my participation in the weekly seminar.”

Jean Howard began teaching at Syracuse in 1975, where she received the first University-wide Wasserstrom Prize for excellence as teacher and mentor of graduate students; she has also received Guggenheim, NEH, Mellon, Folger, Huntington, and Newberry Library Fellowships. In 2010 she gave the Columbia University Schoff Memorial Lectures on 'Staging History: Imagining the Nation' on playwrights William Shakespeare, Tony Kushner, and Caryl Churchill. Her teaching interests include Shakespeare, Tudor and Stuart drama, Early Modern poetry, modern drama, feminist and Marxist theory, and the history of feminism.

Professor Howard is on the editorial board of Shakespeare Studies and Renaissance Drama. She has published essays on Shakespeare, Pope, Ford, Heywood, Dekker, Marston, and Jonson, as well as on aspects of contemporary critical theory including new historicism, Marxism, and issues in feminism. Her books include Shakespeare's Art of Orchestration (1984); Shakespeare Reproduced: The Text in History and Ideology, edited with Marion O'Connor (1987); The Stage and Struggle in Early Modern England (1994); with Phyllis Rackin, Engendering a Nation: A Feminist Account of Shakespeare's English Histories (1997); Marxist Shakespeares, edited with Scott Shershow (2000); and four generically organized Companions to Shakespeare, edited with Richard Dutton (2001). She is a co-editor of The Norton Shakespeare (2nd ed. 2007) and General Editor of the Bedford Contextual Editions of Shakespeare. A recent book, Theater of a City: The Places of London Comedy 1598-1642 (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007), won the Barnard Hewitt award for Outstanding Theater History for 2008. 

She has just published, with Crystal Bartolovich, a monograph on Shakespeare and Marx in the Great Shakespeareans series for Continuum Press (2012) and is currently completing a book entitled Staging History that uses Shakespeare's history plays as a starting point for considering Tony Kushner and Caryl Churchill's use of history in framing debates about current political issues. A book on early modern tragedy is in the works.  From 1996 to 1999 Professor Howard directed the Institute for Research on Women and Gender  at Columbia; in 1999-2000 she was President of the Shakespeare Association of America;  from 2004-2007 she served as Columbia's first Vice Provost for Diversity Initiatives; and from 2008-2011 she was Chair of the Department of English and Comparative Literature. Currently, as a Trustee Emerita of Brown University, she chairs the Brown University President's Diversity Advisory Council and serves on the Advisory Board of the Pembroke Center; she is also a Senator of Phi Beta Kappa.