Professor of English
Chris Fitter was born to productive class confusion in a small town in County Durham, northern England, where his middle-class parents served as Salvation Army officers in a mining community. He still has nightmares about using the spider-thronged cesspit in the brick outhouse. The family moved to the (then) semi-genteel southern market town of Keynsham, near Bristol when he was eight, occupying a comfortably middle-class neighborhood where none of the boys had fleas, and the house came with plumbing and fancy accents. Cultural perplexity reached its height when, after a year “off”, toiling in a factory, he entered Oxford University, England’s most patrician seat of higher learning. He gained his degrees from St. John’s College, taking his D.Phil. in 1989. He is currently Professor of English at Rutgers University, where not even one of his colleagues has fleas. He specializes in early modern English literature and history, with special interest in issues of cultural politics and, astonishingly, social class.
His first book, Poetry, Space, Landscape, examined representations of the natural world in Greek and Roman antiquity, the medieval period, the Bible, and the English Renaissance, and suggested cardinal sociological impulses whose historical accumulation came to foster conceptualization of Nature as “landscape”. It concluded with close readings of Milton, Marvell, Henry Vaughan, and lesser contemporaries. The following book was Radical Shakespeare, which situated Shakespeare’s early plays in contexts of anti-governmental populist angers, and examined their stagecraft mechanisms of discreet political sabotage, to demonstrate a Shakespeare of compassionate protest and indictment of authority from the outset of his career.
His current book, Shakespeare and the Contention of Popular Politics, argues that the concepts of ‘popular politics’ and of ‘activism’, far from being a gross anachronism in the Tudor period, emphasize the reality that the century was riven by a widespread public controversialism and skepticism, on foundational issues of power and authority, unprecedented in English history. Through detailed historical contexts and close reading of Shakespeare’s stagecraft, it demonstrates that the audacious bent of Shakespeare’s Second Tetralogy, as also of Lear, is discreditation of the principle of hereditary monarchy, and in the case of the History plays, a countering of the propaganda machine of the Earl of Essex, champion of the Protestant war-faction at court and in national eyes.
Fitter organized an international conference for historians and Shakespeare scholars held at the Huntington in April 2015, whose proceedings are forthcoming from Oxford University Press in 2016 as Shakespeare and the Politics of Commoners. He has given seminars at Oxford, Columbia, and Yale, and served as a Reader for Verso Press, Shakespeare Quarterly, and Literature Compass. He teaches courses, and offers Independent Studies, in Literature and the Natural World, Shakespeare, English Renaissance Literature, and the Bible as Literature.
- Poetry, Space, Landscape: Toward A New Theory. Cambridge University Press, 1995. Republished (again in hard cover) 1996. Reissued in paperback 2005.
- Radical Shakespeare: Politics and Stagecraft in the Early Years. Routledge, 2012. Nominated for the 2013 Phyllis Goodhart Gordan Book Prize of the Renaissance Society of America.
- Shakespeare and the Contention of Popular Politics. In progress: six of eight chapters are now finished, of which three are published.
- Shakespeare and the Politics of Commoners: Rethinking Shakespeare with the New Social History. Forthcoming from Oxford University Press, 2016.
- ‘A Tale of Two Branaghs: Henry V, Ideology and the Mekong Agincourt’, a chapter in Shakespeare Left and Right, ed. Ivo Kamps (Routledge, 1991), 259-76. Reprinted in the anthology Shakespeare’s History Plays, ed. R.J.C. Watt (London: Longman, 2002), 169-83.
- ‘Landscape’: 6,000 word essay-entry in The Encyclopedia of Aesthetics, Oxford University Press, 1998, vol. 3, 86-93. Revised in 2012 for 2nd ed., forthcoming 2014.
- ‘La Nuit dans les Tenebres de la Guerre Civile: le Nocturne comme Resistance chez Henry Vaughan’, a chapter in in Penser La Nuit, ed. Dominique Bertrand (Honoré Champion, Paris, 2003), 343-65.
- ‘Henry VI Part Two and the Politics of Human Commonality’, a chapter in Renaissance Texts and Contexts, ed. Amlan das Gupta (Macmillan India, 2003), 72-95.
- ‘“The Devil Take Such Cozeners!”: Radical Shakespeare in 1 Henry IV ’, in I Henry IV A Critical Guide, ed. Stephen Longstaffe (London and New York: Continuum, 2011), 99-121.
Essays in Journals
- ‘The Rhetoric of Exile’ in Milton Studies, XX, 1984, 147-62.
- ‘The Landscapes of Henry Vaughan: Poet of Military Occupation’ in Essays in Criticism, XLII, April 1992, 123-47.
- ‘W.J. Cash and the Southerner as the Superman: Philosophic Contexts of The Mind of the South’ in The Southern Literary Journal, XXVIII, 1, Fall 1995, 99-114.
- ‘The Poetic Nocturne: from Ancient Motif to Renaissance Genre’ in Early Modern Literary Studies 3.2, September 1997, 2.1-61.
- ‘From the Dream to the Womb: Visionary Impulse and Political Ambivalence in The Great Gatsby’ in Journal X (University of Mississippi), 3.1, Autumn 1998, 1-21.
- ‘The Slain Deer and Political Imperium: in As You Like It, and Andrew Marvell’s “Nymph Complaining for the Death of her Fawn”’ in Journal of English and Germanic Philology, April 1999, 193-218. Reprinted in Shakespearean Criticism, vol. 150 (Gale, Cengage Learning), 2013.
- ‘W.J. Cash’s Mind of the South and the Limitations of Particularist Historiography’ in Southern Quarterly, 38.2,Winter 2000, 98-110.
- ‘“The Quarrel is between our Masters and Us their Men”: Romeo and Juliet, Dearth and the London Riots’ in English Literary Renaissance, 30.2, April 2000, 154-83.
- ‘“Your Captain is Brave and Vows Reformation”: Jack Cade, the Hacket Rising, and Shakespeare’s Vision of Popular Rebellion’, Shakespeare Studies 32 (2004), 173-219.
- ‘Recovering Henry VI Part Two: History, Politics, and Stagecraft’, English Literary History, 72, no.1 (Spring 2005), 129-158.
- ‘Historicizing Shakespeare’s Richard II: Current Events and the Sabotage of Essex’, Early Modern Literary Studies 11.2 (September 2005), 1.1-47.
- ‘Reading Orlando Historically: Vagrancy, Forest, and Vestry Values in Shakespeare’s As You Like It’, in Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England, vol.23 (2010), 114-41.
- “‘Mock not Flesh and Blood / With Solemn Reverence”: Recovering Radical Shakespeare’in Literature Compass, vol. 9, issue 6, pp.420-30, June 2012
- ‘“The Art of Known and Feeling Sorrows”: Rethinking Capitalist Transition, Class-Conflict, and the Politics of Shakespeare’s King Lear, forthcoming.
- Session Chair, ‘Christianity and Film’, South Central Conference on Christianity and Literature, University of Mississippi, February 1991.
- Paper, ‘Christian Traditions and Renaissance Poetry of the Night’, South Central Conference on Christianity and Literature, Centenary College, Shreveport, Louisiana, February 1994.
- Speaker for Amnesty International, ‘South Africa and Political Imprisonment’, University of Mississippi Law School, November 1989.
- Paper, ‘Hunting, Slain Pets and Urban Alienation’, M.L.A. Annual Convention, Chicago, December 1995.
- Speaker for the Opposition in a Debate, ‘Capital Punishment is Ethically Justified’, opposing America’s foremost retentionist spokesman, Professor Ernest van der Haag, West Point Military Academy, November 18 1996.
- Paper, ‘Shakespeare and Film: Romeo and Juliet, Luhrmann and the Apprentices’, North East Modern Language Association Annual Conference, Baltimore, April 1998.
- Paper, ‘Milton and the Poetic Nocturne’, Sixth International Milton Symposium, York, England, July 1999.
- Paper, ‘Populist Shakespeare and the Commonwealth Tradition’, North East Modern Language Association Annual Conference, Buffalo, New York, April 2000.
- Session Chair, ‘Non-Canonical Shakespeare’, North East Modern Language Association, Buffalo, New York, April 2000.
- Paper, ‘La Nuit dans les Tenebres de la Guerre Civile: le Nocturne comme Resistance chez Henry Vaughan’, Conference International: Penser La Nuit, Université Blaise Pascal, Clermont-Ferrand, France, June 2000.
- Panellist, ‘The Immorality of Capital Punishment’, with panelists Judge John Gibbons and Congressman Richard Zimmer: Rutgers-Camden Law School, Feb. 28 2001.
- Guest Lecturer, ‘The Real William Shakespeare’, WHYY TV Studios, Philadelphia, February 2004.
- Guest Lecturer, ‘Radical Shakespeare’, Oxford University: Early Modern Literature Seminar Series, May 25 2004.
- Guest Lecturer, ‘Shakespeare and 16th Century Radical Traditions’, Fairleigh Dickinson Annual Shakespeare Colloquium, October 29 2005.
- Paper, ‘“Mock not flesh and blood / With solemn reverence”: Shakespeare as 1590s Radical’, Rediscovering Radicalism in Early Modern Britain conference, Goldsmiths College, London, June 21-23, 2006.
- Guest Speaker, ‘Shakespeare and the Stagecraft of Stealth’: Columbia University Seminar in Shakespeare Series, November 10 2006.
- Paper, ‘The Economic Base of Political Critique in King Lear’, Seminar on The New Economic Criticism, Shakespeare Association of America, Boston, April 2012
- Seminar presenter, ‘King Lear and Agrarian Poverty’, Yale British Historical Studies Colloquium, Yale University, April 11 2013
- Keynote address: ‘Kingship, Class, and Closure in Macbeth’, Oxford Shakespeare Festival, Oxford Mississippi, June 25 2013