Scott A. Trudell
Director of Undergraduate Studies
Department of English
University of Maryland, College Park
My research and teaching focus on early modern poetry, drama, music, and pageantry, as well as media studies and performance theory. My first book, Unwritten Poetry: Song, Performance, and Media in Early Modern England, is available from Oxford University Press -- with a 30% discount using the code AAFLYG6. The introduction to the book is freely available here.
Recipient of the Roland H. Bainton Prize for Literature, Unwritten Poetry studies the role of vocal music in the poetic and theatrical cultures of the English Renaissance. Virtuosic actor-singers redefined the theatrical culture of William Shakespeare and his peers. Composers including William Byrd and Henry Lawes shaped the transmission of Renaissance lyric verse. Poets from Philip Sidney to John Milton were fascinated by the disorienting influx of musical performance into their works. Musical performance was a driving force behind the period’s theatrical and poetic movements, yet its importance to literary history has long been ignored or effaced.
Unwritten Poetry reveals the impact of vocalists and composers upon the poetic culture of early modern England by studying the media through which—and by whom—its songs were made. In a literary field that was never confined to writing, media were not limited to material texts. I argue that the media of Renaissance poetry can be conceived as any node of transmission from singer’s larynx to actor’s body. Through my study of song, I outline a new approach to Renaissance poetry and drama that is grounded not simply in performance history or book history but in a more synthetic media history.
Reviews of Unwritten Poetry:
I have additional research interests in early Tudor culture, Renaissance pageantry, theories of lyric poetry, gender studies, formalism, and the digital humanities. I am currently collaborating with Katherine Larson (English, University of Toronto) and Sarah Williams (Music History, University of South Carolina) on Early Modern Songscapes, an interdisciplinary web project on the musical performance of English Renaissance poetry. My work has been published in PMLA, Renaissance Studies, Shakespeare Quarterly, Studies in Philology, the Map of Early Modern London, and edited collections. Click here to view my publications and here for a list of recent and upcoming presentations.
My research in media studies plays out in my teaching, where I ask students to draw connections between early modern literature and our own historical moment. My courses are grounded in close readings of literary texts, but I incorporate music, film, and television into the classroom, and I use course blogs to ask how online interfaces relate to the mediascape of the early modern period, when the printed book remained a “new” medium.
I'm honored to say that Unwritten Poetry has won the 2020 Roland H. Bainton Prize for Literature. The prize is one of four awarded yearly by the Sixteenth Century Society & Conference for the best books written in English dealing with four categories within the time frame of 1450–1660: Art and Music History, History and Theology, Literature, and Reference Works. Here is what the prize committee said about the book:
"Unwritten Poetry makes a sophisticated argument about early modern song as an ongoing conversation that takes place between the material source, or record, of a musical performance of a literary or poetic text, either in manuscript or print, and the evanescence of songs as they are performed, which are themselves grounded in a lived and collaborative community of performers, or in the physical body, with all its vulnerabilities, of the performer. Its methodology is impressively capacious and multifaceted, moving between contemporary media theory, history of the book as well as music history, and close readings of individual texts. It displays a close attentiveness to the lived physical realities of the human body, in all of its frailties, limitations, and challenges, while, at the same time, remaining sensitive to and aware of the realm of the spirit, to musical harmony, to which song reaches. This book offers a powerful and original rethinking of early modern poetic and dramatic culture as a movement between and among the material text, the performer’s body, and the 'unwritten and reimagined' realm of song."
I'm excited to be undertaking a new role as Director of Undergraduate Studies in my department. It is a challenging moment in higher education, to say the least, and my current efforts will be focused above all on maintaining the energy and vitality that my colleagues and I bring to our courses now that we are facing crisis and pandemic. One thing we are trying to do is build a sense of community among our students now that so much is virtual -- fostering connections across courses (inviting a colleague or friend near or far to drop into one's course, for instance), introducing public-facing assignments (e.g. asking students to edit Wikipedia or describe their peers' work via social media), and introducing new service learning opportunities (for example, student-led virtual book clubs with local secondary schools and programs). Our Department won five Teaching Innovation Grants funded by the University of Maryland Provost, and these are helping us fund professional-line faculty, graduate student instructors, and tenure-line faculty over the summer, working in teams to build vibrant online courses.
I have a piece in the Spring 2020 issue of PMLA called "Shakespeare's Notation: Writing Sound in Much Ado About Nothing," part of a forum on Aurality and Literacy edited by Christopher Cannon and Matthew Rubery. My essay is about forms of poetic making that are irreducible to writing or language, with a focus on the compositional practices imagined in Much Ado About Nothing, especially Benedick’s attempts at sonneteering and Claudio’s elegiac tribute to Hero. Much Ado is highly self-reflexive about written inscription, from Leonato’s concern that Hero’s defamation “is printed in her blood” to Dogberry’s insistence that he is “writ down an ass.” Yet this attentiveness to writing only fuels Shakespeare’s corresponding intrigue with rumor, hearsay, performance, and song. We see this in the term noting, a keyword in the play, which refers both to writing and to musical notes, and which is how nothing was pronounced in early modern English. For Shakespeare and his contemporaries, sound and music making occur in dynamic combination with writing because bibliographic and acoustic media were mutually constitutive.