A new critical edition of Fulke Greville’s plays

A research project in the School of English by Dr Sarah Knight

Fulke Greville
Portrait of Fulke Greville (c. 1586), Red Drawing Room, Warwick Castle. By kind permission of Lord Willoughby de Broke and Warwick Castle.
Fulke Greville (1554-1628) lived across the reigns of four different monarchs: two Tudors (Mary I and her sister Elizabeth I) and two Stuarts (James VI of Scotland and I of England and his son Charles I). He was educated in Shrewsbury and Cambridge, lived for many years in London and Warwick, and travelled widely in continental Europe. He knew and on occasion sponsored many of the leading poets and scholars of his day.

Greville’s long and tumultuous life as a courtier and diplomat gave him a unique perspective on contemporary politics, religion and continental culture, and he channelled those interests into a wide range of literary works, from a sonnet sequence (Caelica) to two plays set in the Ottoman Empire (Alaham and Mustapha) to a series of long philosophical poems.

Perhaps Greville’s best known work, however, is the prose ‘Life of Sidney’ or ‘Dedication to Sidney’, a memoir for his friend Philip Sidney, who died young fighting against the Spanish at the Battle of Zutphen in the Netherlands in 1586. The ‘Dedication’ also offers Greville’s perspectives on the monarchs he served, the historical moment he witnessed and the literature he had written.

Dr Sarah Knight

Dr Sarah Knight, Senior Lecturer in the School of English, has been awarded a British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship in 2014 to work on a new critical edition of Fulke Greville’s plays for Oxford University Press. The plays are tragedies with complicated textual histories: manuscript and print versions can be found in various research libraries. Rhetorically complex if static in their action, Mustapha and Alaham are, as Greville states in the ‘Dedication’, ‘no plays for the stage’. But although they were to be spoken or read in private rather than acted in public, both works exemplify Greville’s argument that the plays are ‘for the use of life’: moralistic and philosophically challenging.

Dr Knight has spoken about her Greville-related research at conferences, colloquia and public events in Berlin, Exeter, Fribourg, Huelva, Munich, Shrewsbury and Washington D.C.

More locally, Dr Knighthas given talks on Greville to the Early Modern Research Seminar and at the Literary Leicester festival, and on Elizabethan drama and politics to local schools and colleges. For several years she has taught the editing of early modern drama, including Greville’s Mustapha, to postgraduate students taking the Editing and Textual Cultures module on the MA in English Studies.

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