UCL English


Dr Rachel E. Holmes


Email: r.holmes@ucl.ac.uk
External Phone: 020 7679 3150
Internal Phone: 33150
Office: Foster Court 228

Dr Rachel E. Holmes

Education and Experience

Dr Rachel E. Holmes (MA Hons First Class, MLitt Distinction, PhD: St Andrews) grew up in Pontefract, West Yorkshire, where she attended her local comprehensive, Carleton High School, and coeducational sixth-form, NEW College. She was awarded her PhD, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, in 2014. Since then, she has 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 and a Junior Research Fellow at Wolfson College, Cambridge. She has taught at the Universities of Cambridge, St Andrews, and Edinburgh. In September 2018, Rachel joined the department as a Teaching Fellow in Shakespeare and Renaissance Literature.

Research Interests

Rachel works transnationally on early modern European law and literature, with research and teaching interests in Early modern literature and culture (c.1475–c.1660); Shakespeare; Renaissance drama; rhetoric; poetics; interdisciplinarity; law and literature; adaptation and translation; intertextualities; pedagogy; philology; transnationalism; comparative literature; history of sexuality; and legal history.

She is currently revising for publication a monograph on clandestine contracts in early modern European law and literature for which she was awarded a Laura Bassi Scholarship as a junior academic in Summer 2019. This monograph draws on original-language literary and legal sources to trace the journey across early modern Europe of the tales of Romeo and Juliet, the Duchess of Malfi, and the siblings Claudio and Isabella in Shakespeare's Measure for Measure. These are tales of clandestine marriage, the mediaeval institution of Christian marriage undertaken outside the recognition of legal authorities, which was increasingly the object of renegotiation across early modern Europe. Clandestine marriage was a pressure point because its illicitness undermined marriage as a managed exogamy, posing a threat to social controls, familial expectations, and honour. This monograph shows that the relationship between versions of these tales is shaped in part by legal anxieties about clandestine marriage and demonstrates the centrality of legal questions to transnational literary adaptation.

Rachel is also developing a second monograph project, which starts from the observation that ‘rape’ is neither an objectively knowable entity, nor an objective category; it is defined in opposition to different forms of ‘legitimate’ sexual relation in historically contingent ways. While early modern legal definitions of rape remain relatively undeveloped, the frequent narration of sexual crimes in early modern European literature is indicative of a keen social interest in the high stakes of distinguishing rape from other kinds of sexual relation. These legally-inflected concerns are crucial to both early modern Europe and our present moment.

In the Department, Rachel convenes Shakespeare Goes Viral, a regular playreading group open to staff and students at all stages of their academic trajectory. With Dr Xine Yao, she also co-convenes the new seminar series 'Race, Power, and Poetics' as one strand of the Departmental Research Seminar Programme. 

Book Series and Edited Volumes

(As Series Co-Editor) Crossroads of Knowledge in Early Modern Literature, 4 vols, with Subha Mukherji, Tim Stuart-Buttle, Elizabeth L. Swann, Rebecca Tomlin (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, forthcoming 2017–20). DOI

(As co-editor) 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). DOI

Selected Articles and Chapters in Books

‘A Widow’s Will: Adapting the Duchess of Amalfi in Early Modern England and Spain,’ Studies in Philology 116.4 (Fall 2019), 728–757. DOI

‘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: Edinburgh University Press, 2019), pp. 145–154. DOI

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

‘In Pursuit of Truth’ with Toria Johnson, In Pursuit of Truth: Law and Emotion in Early Modern Europe, ed. Rachel E. Holmes and Toria Johnson [Special Issue], Forum for Modern Language Studies 54.1 (January 2018), 1–16. DOI

Selected Book Reviews

‘Paul Raffield, The Art of Law in Shakespeare,’ in The Review of English Studies vol. 69, no. 289 (April 2018). DOI

‘Christopher N. Warren, Literature and the Law of Nations, 1580–1680,’ in Renaissance Studies 31.3 (June 2017). DOI