UCL English


Professor Alison Shell

Email: a.shell@ucl.ac.uk
External phone: 020 7679 3150
Internal phone: 33150
Office: Foster Court 228 


Alison Shell

Education and Experience

I was educated at the North London Collegiate School and St Hilda’s College, Oxford (B.A./M.A. and D.Phil.). After a period as Rare Books Curator at the Royal Institute of British Architects, I became a British Academy Post-Doctoral Fellow at UCL between 1994 and 1997. My first permanent academic post was at the University of Durham, where I worked between 1997 and 2010 before moving back to UCL. During my time here I have contributed early modern teaching to a wide variety of undergraduate and MA courses, convened the MA in ‘Shakespeare in his Time’ and acted as graduate tutor.

I have acted as a series editor for the Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, University of Toronto, since 2010. Together with Thomas S. Freeman and Ann Hutchison, I founded the series ‘Catholic and Recusant Texts of the Late Medieval and Early Modern Periods’. I also sit on the editorial boards for British Catholic History and Reformation.

I am a Fellow of the English Association and of the Society of Antiquaries, and have held visiting fellowships at the following institutions: Newberry Library, Chicago; the Beinecke Library, Yale; and the Lewis Walpole Library, Yale.

I review regularly for the Times Literary Supplement.

In the past I have received major research grants from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Leverhulme Trust. Between September 2018 and February 2022 I was in receipt of a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship, working on ‘The Drama of the British Counter-Reformation’ (see below).

Current and recent research

I am currently writing a monograph on ‘The Drama of the British Counter-Reformation’. This will focus on the plays produced at the British Catholic colleges founded after the Reformation, which typically dramatised the stories of confessors and martyrs, aiming to inspire their youthful actors to promote Catholicism in the face of persecution. Running from the foundation of the English College at Douai in 1569 to the exile of James II in 1688, this study will focus on defining the category of British Counter-Reformation literature; on the polemical link between acting, education and Jesuits; and on the imaginative use made of boy actors and male bonding. Finally, these plays will be contrasted with present-day imaginative attempts to radicalise young people. 

I am also co-editing Thomas Traherne’s Roman Forgeries with Jean-Louis Quantin and Austen Saunders, volume 12 in the forthcoming edition of Traherne’s collected works from Oxford University Press (general editor, Julia Smith).

Research interests and supervisory capability

I have special interests within the following fields: Shakespeare and Renaissance drama; Tudor and Stuart poetry, especially the work of John Donne and Robert Southwell; the English and neo-Latin writing of post-Reformation British Catholics; early modern religious prose, especially the work of Thomas Traherne; early modern polemic and anti-Catholicism; the literature and imaginative representation of Anglicanism from the 16th century to the present day, especially Anglican women’s writing and the work of Anglican novelists; folklore and superstition in early modern Britain; early modern book history and manuscript studies; the literature of antiquarianism; intersections of literature and architecture. 

Prospective doctoral or post-doctoral students in any of the areas I list above are very welcome to discuss projects with me, with a view to supervision or mentoring. I currently supervise PhD students working on the following topics: 

John Donne and Hebrew
The imaginative representation and folklore of Jacobitism

The Book of Daniel in early modern English literature and culture

Published books (single-authored)

Shakespeare and Religion (London: Arden Shakespeare, Critical Companions, 2010; paperback 2015). 

Oral Culture and Catholicism in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2007, paperback,  2009).  This volume was awarded the Dietz Prize by the journal Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900

Catholicism, Controversy and the English Literary Imagination, 1558-1660 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1999, paperback 2006). 

Published books (co-authored and edited)

(Co-edited with David Loewenstein) Early Modern Literature and England’s Long Reformation (Abingdon: Routledge/ Taylor and Francis, 2020). This is a republication of a special issue of Reformation 24:2 (2019). I co-wrote the introduction and contributed an essay: ‘Sacrilege, Tractarian Fiction and the Very Long Reformation’, pp.143-57.

(Co-edited with Judith Maltby) Anglican Women Novelists: From Charlotte Brontë  to P.D. James (Bloomsbury / T. & T. Clark, 2019). I co-wrote the introduction and wrote the chapter on P.D. James; the volume also covers Charlotte Brontë, Charlotte Maria Tucker (‘A Lady of England’), Charlotte M. Yonge, Margaret Oliphant, Evelyn Underhill, Rose Macaulay, Dorothy L. Sayers, Noel Streatfeild, Elizabeth Goudge, Iris Murdoch, Barbara Pym, Monica Furlong. Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey and the University Church in Oxford have hosted lecture series drawn from the book, and I have spoken on the topic at several literary festivals.

(Co-edited with Alison Emblow) Index to the Court Books of the Stationers’ Company, 1679 to 1717 (London and Oxford: Oxford UP/ Bibliographical Society, 2007). I contributed all the entries for the years 1679-1697, the editorial material and a 15,000-word introduction. The volume was shortlisted for the Wheatley Medal of the Society of Indexers.

(Co-edited with Giles Mandelbrote and Arnold Hunt) The Book Trade and its Customers(Winchester: St Paul's Bibliographies, 1997). I authored  ‘The Antiquarian Satirised: John Clubbe’s History and Antiquities of Wheatfield (1758)’, pp.243-73 

Published articles and book chapters (selected)

Priestly Playwright, Secular Priest: William Drury's Latin and English Drama', SEDERI 31 (2021), pp.117-45.

‘Southwell’s Influence: Imitations, Appropriations, Reactions’, in Precarious Identities: Studies in the Work of Fulke Greville and Robert Southwell, ed. Afroditi-Maria Panaghis and Vassiliki Markidou (Abingdon: Routledge/ Taylor and Francis, 2020), pp.229-249.

'Byzantine Tragedy in Restoration England: Joseph Simons's Zeno and Sir William Killigrew's The Imperial Tragedy'Renaissance Studies, 30:4 (2016), pp.623-39.

'The Writing on the Wall? John Ingram's Verse and the Dissemination of Catholic Prison Writing', British Catholic History, 33:1 (2016), pp. 58-70.

‘Seraphic Discourse, Mystical Bodies: John Austin’s Original Psalms’, in Nigel Smith & Sara Poor (eds), Mysticism and Reform, 1400-1750 (Notre Dame:  Notre Dame UP, 2015), pp.265-90.  

‘Delusion in A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, in David Loewenstein and Michael Witmore (eds), Shakespeare and Early Modern Religion (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2015), pp.81-95. 

‘Intimate Worship: John Austin’s Devotions in the Ancient Way of Offices’, in Alec Ryrie and Jessica Martin (eds), Private and Domestic Devotion in Early Modern Britain(Farnham: Ashgate, 2012), pp.259-80.

‘William Alabaster and the Palinode’, in Lowell Gallagher (ed.), Redrawing the Map of Early Modern English Catholicism (Toronto UP/ UCLA Center for 17th-Century and 18th-Century Studies, 2012), pp.115-31. 

‘The Death of Donne’ in Jeanne Shami, M. Thomas Hester & Dennis Flynn (eds), The Oxford Handbook of John Donne (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2011), pp.646-57.

‘The 16th- and 17th-Century “Lives” of Edmund Gennings’, Recusant History, 30:2 (2010), pp.213-27.

‘Tragedy and Religion’, in Emma Smith and Garrett A. Sullivan (eds), The Cambridge Companion to English Renaissance Tragedy (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010), pp.44-57.

‘Seventeenth-Century Poetry: II (Herbert, Marvell, Vaughan, Crashaw, Philips)’ in The Cambridge History of English Poetry, ed. Michael O’Neill (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010), pp.211-30.

(with Arnold Hunt), ‘The Book as Gift in Elizabethan Durham: Barnabe Barnes’s A Divine Centurie of Spiritual Sonnets’, in Paul Scott (ed.), Collaboration and Interdisciplinarity in the Republic of Letters (Manchester: Manchester UP, 2010), pp.117-33.

‘Divine Muses, Catholic Poets and Pilgrims to St Winifred’s Well: Literary Communities in Francis Chetwinde’s “New Hellicon” (1642)’, in Roger Sell & Anthony Johnson (eds), Religion and Writing in England, 1558-1689: Studies in Community-Making and Cultural Memory (Farnham: Ashgate, 2009), pp.273-88.

‘St Winifred’s Well in British Catholic Literary Culture’, in Peter Davidson and Jill Bepler (eds), Triumphs of the Defeated: Early Modern Festivals and Messages of Legitimacy(Wolfenbüttel: Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel, 2007), pp.271-80. 

‘Elizabeth Cary’s Historical Conscience: The Tragedy of Mariam and Thomas Lodge’s Josephus’, in Heather Wolfe (ed.), The Literary Career and Legacy of Elizabeth Cary, 1613-1680 (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2007), pp.53-67.  

(With Peter Davidson) ‘Towards a Definition of “Baroque”’, PN Review, 33:1 (2006), pp.14-17.

Why Didn't Shakespeare Write Religious Verse?'  in J.R. Mulryne & Takashi Kosuka (eds), Shakespeare, Marlowe, Jonson (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006), pp.85-112.

(with Arnold Hunt) ‘John Donne’s Religious World’, in Achsah Guibbory (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to John Donne (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2006), pp.65-82.

'"Furor Juvenilis": Post-Reformation English Catholic Mission and Exemplary Youthful Behaviour', in Ethan Shagan (ed.), Catholics and the Protestant Nation (Manchester: Manchester UP, 2005), pp.185-206. This volume went into paperback in 2009.

 '"Often to my self I make my mone": Early Modern Women's Poetry from the Feilding Family', in Victoria Burke & Jonathan Gibson (eds), Early Modern Women's Writing in Manuscript (London: Routledge, 2004), pp.259-77.

‘Donne and Sir Edward Hoby: Evidence for an Unrecorded Collaboration', in David Colclough (ed.), John Donne's Professional Lives (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2003), pp.121-32.

'What is a Catholic Poem? Explicitness and Censorship in Tudor and Stuart Religious Verse', in Andrew Hadfield (ed.), Literature and Censorship in Renaissance England(Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2001), pp.95-111.

'Autodidacticism in English Jesuit Drama: The Writings and Career of Joseph Simons', MaRDiE (Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England), 3 (2000), pp.34-56. 

‘Multiple Religious Conversion and the Menippean Self: The Case of Richard Carpenter’, in Arthur Marotti (ed.) Catholicism and Anti-Catholicism in Seventeenth-Century Texts (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1999), pp.154-97. 

‘Antiquarians, Local Politics and the Book Trade: The Publication of Philip Morant's History of Colchester (1748)’, The Library,  6th series, 21:3 (1999), pp.223-46.

`Popish Plots: The Feign’d Curtezans in Context’, in Janet Todd (ed.) Aphra Behn Studies (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996), pp.30-49.

`”We are made a spectacle”: Campion’s Dramas’, in Thomas McCoog & Joseph Munitiz (eds) The Reckoned Expense: Edmund Campion and the early English Jesuits(Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer, 1996), pp.103-18. This collection was reprinted in 2007. 

`Publishing Pompeii: a Study in Cultural Censorships’, Biblion: The Journal of the New York Public Library, 4:2 (1996), pp.1-23.

`Catholic Texts and Anti-Catholic Prejudice in the Seventeenth-Century Book Trade’, in Robin Myers & Michael Harris (eds) Censorship and the Control of Print in England and France, 1600-1910 (Winchester: St. Paul’s Bibliographies, 1992), pp.33-57.

Review articles and selected shorter pieces

‘Recent Work on Robert Southwell’, Reformation, 14 (2009), pp.184-93.

Notices on William Lane and Jane Barker for the 'Missing Persons' volume of the Dictionary of National Biography; notices on Anthony Rivers and Joseph Simons for the online Oxford DNB (2004).

Entries on 'Reformation and Counter-Reformation' and 'Jesuit Drama' for The Oxford Encyclopaedia of Theatre and Performance (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2003).

Entry on Robert Southwell for the Oxford Encyclopaedia of British Literature, ed. David Kastan (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005).

‘Hymns and Prosopopoeia: Samuel Crossman’s ‘My Song is Love Unknown’, Religion and Literature, 42:3 (2010), pp.191-8.

Curatorial activity

In 2016 I guest-curated '"Cloud-Capped Towers": Shakespeare in Sir John Soane's Architectural Imagination', at Sir John Soane's Museum (April-September). 

I co-edited Early Printed Books, 1478-1840: Catalogue of the British Architectural Library Early Imprints Collection (London: Bowker-Saur), contributing to vols I-III  (1994-1999). The set of volumes was given the Besterman Prize (awarded to a reference book) at the CILIP awards in November 2003.