Jen Katz ’19

As students, faculty, and staff returned to the English Department this fall, one face was notably missing: Professor Penelope Geng, who specializes in early modern literature. Professor Geng is on sabbatical this year and will spend the spring conducting research at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California through the prestigious Francis Bacon Foundation Fellowship.

For now, though, Professor Geng is spending the fall researching her forthcoming book, tentatively titled Communal Justice in Early Modern Drama. She told The Words that work is going smoothly: “two more chapters and a conclusion to go…I can see the light at the end of the tunnel now!” This October, she will also present her research at a workshop for CUNY’s Society for the Study of Women in the Renaissance. There is, of course, still more work to be done. “At this moment, I have more questions than answers,” she said.

Last month, Professor Geng visited London to conduct research for a forthcoming book chapter. Enjoy a postcard that she shared with us at The Words:


“To my fellow readers, writers, and researchers,


Greetings! I’m currently in London doing research at the British Library, a trip that’s made possible by the College’s sabbatical program for pre-tenure faculty and a Mac Wallace Scholarly Activities grant. Specifically, I’m gathering materials for a book chapter that explores the connection between drama and the harvest failures of the mid-1590s. Beginning in 1594, England experienced several years of cold, wet, and short summers. As a result, the price of corn—a staple in the commoner’s kitchen—rose 190% even as real wages fell and the plague returned. Queen’s Council acknowledged the crisis by blaming “ingrossers” (an early modern term for hoarders) for artificially driving up the price. For example, one of the documents that I examined excoriates the “insatiable avarice of some Corn Maisters” and reminds the citizenry that “ingrossing and forestalling” are felony crimes. The Council also censored public discourse related to “dearth.” They were only partially successful. Elizabethan playwrights, so used to dealing with censorship, found creative ways to comment on the crisis without seeming to [do] so, as suggested by certain dramatic and rhetorical patterns in plays like The Two Lamentable Tragedies and Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. When I’m not in library, I’m out in the city, attending performances of Shakespeare, visiting galleries, and reconnecting with friends.



A view from the Tate Modern


A manuscript at the British Library
A view of the British Library