Position title: Madeleine Doran Dissertation Fellow (2014-2015)
Oracular Romance: Heliodoran Fiction and Suspended Providence in Early Modern English Literature
Classical oracles were denounced in the Renaissance as either shams staged by charlatans or as engines of deceit run by demons. In Renaissance literature, though, oracles escaped these official interpretations. Why did early modern writers include oracles in their fictions, and what work did these oracles do? I approach these questions by focusing on oracles as an understudied narrative device of the Greek romance tradition. Classical Greek romances, especially the Aethiopica of Heliodorus (c. 4th century CE), were influential narrative models for writers in the Renaissance. I argue that early modern imitators of Greek romance used oracles to stage elaborate thought experiments regarding future knowledge and divine providence, cultivating suspense and doubt in the process. I trace this oracular temporality and its effects in Heliodorus, Philip Sidney, Robert Greene, Shakespeare, and Francis Bacon.
Brian Knight is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of English Literature at UW-Madison. His research interests include Renaissance drama and prose, the classical tradition, and the history of science. He received an M.A. in English Literature from UW and a B.S. in Biology from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. He is at work on his dissertation, entitled “Oracular Romance: Heliodoran Fiction and Suspended Providence in Early Modern English Literature.”