Dr Bonnie Lander Johnson, Downing




Biographical Information

In 2012 I took my Oxford DPhil, supervised by Sharon Achinstein and Laurie Maguire. Since then I have held Fellowships at Selwyn, Newnham and CRASSH. In 2022 I moved to Downing College, where I am Fellow, College Associate Professor and Director of Studies in Part I. In Part I of the English Tripos I teach Shakespeare and Renaissance Literature and in Part II, I teach Tragedy, Material Renaissance and Early Modern Drama. I represent the Faculty on the steering committee of the BBC / Cambridge National Shory Story Award.


Research Interests

My first monograph, Chastity in Early Stuart Literature and Culture, traced the medical, theological, literary, and revolutionary uses of chastity from The Winter's Tale to the death of Charles I. It argued, among other things, that court 'performances', including royal birthing ceremonies, need to be considered part of the same debate as political and theological pamphlets. My second book was Blood Matters, a collection of interdisciplinary essays as part of the Wellcome-Trust funded The Blood Project.

I am now writing about the Elizabethan botanical renaissance: a movement that involved a wide range of popular practices from domestic decorative arts to pedagogy, gardens and food, printed herbals, and the Shakespearean theatre itself, but which also shaped Elizabethan proto-colonialism and expansionist privateering through growing markets in cochineal, tobacco and sugar. This work also covers chorographic texts, travel (local and global), plants as objects of nostalgia and exoticism and shifting theological and proto-scientific understandings of the created world. As part of this research I am editing The Cambridge Handbook of Literature and Plants, a 20-chapter volume charting literature's interest in plants (from Virgil to contemporary nature writing and spanning all global regions) and finishing a monograph on Shakespeare's botany.

From 2020-23 I convene the Faculty's Plant Life research group with Kasia Boddy. In 2021-22 Kasia and I received a Research and Collections grant to hunt in our college and university collections for images and stories about Cambridge's role in the global saffron trade and the local cultures that emerged around the growing, cultivating, selling, and use of saffron as medicine, dye, pigment, food. For centuries, both locally and globally, saffron has been caught up in nationalist, commercial and religious tensions, but we have all but forgotten the role Cambridge played in this long history. This project culminated in an online exhibition and a conference at CRASSH: Saffron: Global History, Cambridge Stories.

I also bring my interest in religious and scientific discourses around nature to modern and contemporary writing. I am working on recent nature writing about plants and also 20th-century prose in the tradition of the divine imagination. With Julia Meszaros at Maynooth, I am charting the forgotten history of the role women played in the Catholic Literary Revival of the 19th and 20th centuries. This movement is usually characterised by the work of Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene but in fact women writers from across the English speaking world (especially Britain and Ireland) were the movement’s most numerous members. Their work is almost entirely forgotten. For CUA press, I am editing a multi-volume series of paperback novels: Catholic Women Writers. I am also writing historical, literary and theological accounts of the divine imagination and its uses of nature to describe the ways in which ordinary life is raised by mystical reality.

More recenlty, I have been writing creative-critical pieces using my research on Renaissance culture to experiment with voice and the interleaving of the critical and novelistic 'I'. Two of these pieces can be found in Hinterland and Howl, both nominated for the Pushcart Prize. I also write fiction. 

I am a member of the Scholars of Literature and Religion Network and the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment.

Areas of Graduate Supervision

 Any of the above


Selected Publications


(Forthcoming) Vanishing Landscapes (Hodder and Stoughton, 2025).

(Forthcoming) Botanical Culture and Popular Belief in Shakespeare’s England (Cambridge University Press, 2024).

Chastity in Early Stuart Literature and Culture (Cambridge University Press, 2015; paperback, 2017). Featured here: The Language and Literature of Chastity 

Edited Collections:

(Forthcoming), Cambridge Handbook of Literature and Plants (Cambridge University Press, 2024).

(With Eleanor Decamp, eds.), Blood Matters: Studies in European Literature and Thought, 1400-1700 (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018). Featured here: Blood and Bodies.

Book Chapters:

‘‘‘Fairy Bowers’ and ‘Precious Flowers’ in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Elizabethan Court Culture’, in Susannah Lyon-Whaley (ed.), Floral Culture and the Tudor and Stuart Courts (Amsterdam University Press, 2024).

(with Julia Meszaros), 'British and Irish Novels and the Catholic Imagination,' The Oxford History of British and Irish Catholicism (OUP, 2023).

(Forthcoming) 'Introduction', The Cambridge Handbook of Literature and Plants (Cambridge University Press, 2024).

(Forthcoming) 'Shakespeare, Then and Now', The Cambridge Handbook of Literature and Plants (Cambridge University Press, 2024).

‘“The blood of English shall manure the ground”: the almanac in Richard II’s vision of soil and body management’, in Hilary Eklund (ed.), Ground-Work: Soil Science in Renaissance Literature (Duquesne University Press, 2017), 59-78.

‘Blood, Milk, Poison: Romeo and Juliet’s tragedy of “green” desire and corrupted blood’, Blood Matters: Studies in European Literature and Thought, 1400-1700 (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018), 134-150.

(With Eleanor Decamp), ’Introduction’, Blood Matters: Studies in European Literature and Thought, 1400-1700 (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018), 1-14.

Journal Articles, Fiction, Non-Fiction:

'Young Love', The Belfast Review (2024)

'Tree, Ballads, Iconoclam, and the Garden in Richard II,' Shakespeare Journal special edition: ‘Shakespeare and Gardens’, edited by Todd Borlik.

'Green', HOWL 1 (2022).

'Treasure', Hinterland 10 (2022).

'The Tree That Grows Forever,' Dappled Things (2022).

'Idolatry', Brick Lane Bookshop: New Short Stories (2022)

(With Julia Meszaros), 'Ward (nee Hope-Scott), Josephine Mary', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2023).

(with Myles O'Gorman), 'Shakespeare's Statuary Women and the Indoor Theatre's Discovery Space', Early Theatre 24 (2021), 89–112.

‘Art and the “Work” of Suffering: Houselander, Ellis, Salvifici Doloris and Laborem Exercens’, Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture 23 (2020), 23-48.

(With Beth Dubow) ‘Allegories of Creation: Glassmaking, Forests and Fertility in Webster's The Duchess of Malfi’, Renaissance Drama 45 (2017), 107-137.

(With Eleanor Decamp and Laurie Maguire, ’The Bloody Truth', Bulletin of the Society of Renaissance Studies 31 (2014), 11-13.

‘Interpreting the Person: tradition, conflict, and Cymbeline’s Imogen’, Shakespeare Quarterly 59:2 (2008), 156–184.

‘The Convention of Innocence and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’s Literary Sophisticates’, Parergon: Journal of the Australian and New Zealand Association for Medieval and Early Modern Studies 24:1 (2007), 41–66.

‘Critical Relationships: Sense & Sensibility on page and screen’, Sensibilities: The Journal of the Australian Jane Austen Society 32 (2006).

Critical Editions (with Introductions):

(with Julia Meszaros) Caryll Houselander, The Dry Wood (CUA Press, 2021).

(with Julia Meszaros) Sheila-Kaye Smith, The End of the House of Alard (CUA Press, 2022).

(with Julia Meszaros) Josephine Ward, One Poor Scruple (CUA Press, 2022).

(forthcoming, with Julia Meszaros) Enid Dinnis, Complete Short Stories Volume One (CUA Press, 2023).



SARAH NEVILLE, Early Modern Herbals and the Book Trade, Review of English Studies (2023)

SARAH ROSS AND ROSALIND SMITH, Early Modern Women's Complaint, Review of English Studies 72 (2021).

JAMES E. KELLY AND HANNAH THOMAS, Jesuit Intellectual and Physical Exchange Between England and Mainland Europe, Renaissance Quarterly, 72 (2020).

LESLIE THOMPSON, Discoveries on the Early Modern Stage, Renaissance Quarterly 72 (2019).

JAN FRANS VAN DIJKHUIZEN, Pain and Compassion in Early Modern English Literature and Culture, Review of English Studies 65 (2014).