Dr Rachel E Holmes, Wolfson




Biographical Information

I am a College Assistant Professor, Director of Studies for all parts of the Tripos, and Fellow in English at Wolfson College. I grew up in Pontefract, West Yorkshire, where I attended my local comprehensive school and coeducational sixth-form. After heading to St Hugh’s College, Oxford, as an undergraduate I returned north to the University of St Andrews to complete my MA and MLitt in Shakespeare Studies. I was awarded my PhD, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, by St Andrews in 2014. Since then, I have been a Research Associate at the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences, and Humanities (CRASSH) and the Faculty of English at the University of Cambridge (2015–18), a Junior Research Fellow at Wolfson College (2016–18), and a Lecturer in Shakespeare and Renaissance Literature at University College London (2018–22). I rejoined Wolfson in Michaelmas Term 2022.

Research Interests

My research is interdisciplinary and transnational in focus, anchored in early modern English literature and culture but invested in the inter– and the trans–, that is, in the spaces between and beyond conventional national, disciplinary, and period boundaries.

Broadly interested in literary and legal structures and processes of knowing, the  subjects of my research to date have explored, for example, early modern women and law, the dramatic potential and legal engagements of early modern language manuals, genre as a jurisdictional space, Shakespeare’s legal philology, the threatening contractual agency of the early modern widow, truth-seeking and the effects of rhetorical vividness in literature, law, and emotion, and secret sexual contracts.

My doctoral work became my first book project, Clandestine Contracts: Marriage, Law, and Literary Adaptation in Early Modern Europe, completed with the aid of a Philip A. Knachel Fellowship from the Folger Institute and a Laura Bassi Scholarship. This book traces the journey across the early modern world of selected tales of clandestine marriage, the medieval institution of Christian marriage undertaken outside the recognition of legal authorities. Clandestine Contracts shows how the relationship between versions of its focal tales is shaped by legal anxieties about clandestine marriage and thereby demonstrates the centrality of legal questions to transnational literary adaptation. 

I am currently working on my second monograph project, Rape Myths: Representing Consent and Culpability, 1275–1736, which explores the early modern roots of contemporary Anglo-American laws governing sexual transgressions and charts a transnational transformation in the representation of rape—figured through shifts in inwardness and intention in literature—during that time. 

Areas of Graduate Supervision

I would be delighted to supervise graduate work on topics related to any of the research interests outlined above.

Selected Publications

'Rome, 1612: The Precedence of "Chast Lucretia"', in Europe: A Literary History, 1545–1659, ed. Warren Boutcher (Oxford University Press, forthcoming).

'Early Women Writers and Law', in Palgrave Digital Encyclopedia of Early Modern Women's Writing in English, ed. Rosalind Smith and Patricia Pender (Palgrave, forthcoming).

‘“The Power of "Presidents”’, The New Rambler Review (11 February, 2021).

‘A Widow’s Will: Adapting the Duchess of Amalfi in Early Modern England and Spain,’ Studies in Philology, 116.4 (Fall 2019), 728–57.

‘Teaching Serial with Shakespeare: Using Rhetoric to Resist,’ in Teaching Social Justice Through Shakespeare: Why Renaissance Literature Matters Now, ed. Wendy Beth Hyman and Hillary Eklund (Edinburgh University Press, 2019), pp. 145–54.

‘“What’s the Matter?” Murderous Husbands and “Adulterous” Wives in Early Modern English and Spanish Drama,’ in In Pursuit of Truth: Law and Emotion in Early Modern Europe [Special Issue], Forum for Modern Language Studies, 54.1 (January 2018), 85–99.

In Pursuit of Truth: Law and Emotion in Early Modern Europe [Special Issue], Forum for Modern Language Studies 54.1, ed. & introd. with Toria Johnson (January 2018).

Crossroads of Knowledge in Early Modern Literature, series co-ed. with Subha Mukherji, Tim Stuart-Buttle, Elizabeth L. Swann, Rebecca Tomlin (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017–Present).