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Professor Karen Edwards



01392 724271

Office: Room 203, QB           Tel. ext. 4271              email:

My research and teaching focus on sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English literature, especially the works of John Milton, in the context of natural history, the Bible and religion, and politics. Milton and the Natural World (1999) places Milton's representation of the plants and animals of Eden in the wider context of the scientific revolution and of Europe's exploration of 'new worlds'. Milton’s Reformed Animals: An Early Modern Bestiary (2005-2009) studies the presence of animals in literature of the period, in terms both of their scientific representation and of their symbolic and polemical functions. The monograph I am now writing, Political Animals in Early Modern England, extends my study of the distinctive early modern fusion of physical and symbolic worlds into a study of vituperative animal epithets – ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’, ‘greedy cormorants’, ‘vipers of sedition’ – in polemical exchanges from the Reformation to the Restoration. I aim to demonstrate that changes in the use of animal images and metaphors among religious and political controversialists enable us to understand how ‘hate language’ contributed to the outbreak of civil war and the gradual erosion of the Bible as the basis for public discourse. I co-edited with Prof. Jane Spencer and Dr. Derek Ryan a collection of essays entitled Reading Literary Animals, Medieval to Modern (Routledge, 2020), and I am currently co-authoring an Arden dictionary of Shakespeare’s animals (forthcoming, 2022).



Research interests

My research primarily focuses on early modern literature, especially the poetry and prose of John Milton, and its relationship to politics, religion and the Bible, and ‘science’ (in particular, natural history). In Milton and the Natural World: Science and Poetry in 'Paradise Lost' (CUP, 1999), I argued for the poet's full awareness and use of the new, scientific, natural history of the mid-seventeenth century in his representation of the flora and fauna of Eden. In Milton's Reformed Animals: An Early Modern Bestiary (published between 2005 and 2009 in a series of issues of Milton Quarterly) I undertook a systematic and more focused concentration on animals. The bestiary consists of studies of what Europeans ‘knew' about each of the over-150 animals (wild, domestic, imaginary and monstrous) that has a presence in Milton's works. In the mid-seventeenth century, the knowledge of animals consists of a rich synthesis of lore and zoology, symbolism and experience, biblical and classical tradition. The bestiary offers a historically authentic account of what 'crocodile' or 'amphisbaena', 'phoenix' or 'hyena', could signify and shows how Milton's writing exploits the range of meanings comprehended in these names. I am now working on a monograph entitled Political Animals in Early Modern England. The study investigates how far and in what ways the conventional practice of comparing opponents to animals (e.g., ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’, ‘cormorant’, ‘viper’) contributed to the seventeenth century’s repeated failure to reconcile political and religious differences. I  co-edited a collection of essays on the historical representation of animals in iterature entitled Reading Literary Animals: Medieval to Modern (Routledge, 2929) and have published articles and chapters on early modern theories of education and of melancholy, on Thomas Browne’s Pseudodoxia Epidemica, on the use of biblical models in women's narratives of the period, and on the feminist debate about Milton's Eve. I am currently  co-authoring an Arden dictionary on animals in Shakespeare's works.



Research supervision

I am happy to supervise students who wish to work on the literature of the late sixteenth and seventeenth century, especially the poetry and prose of John Milton; on early modern 'science' and natural history, especially the representation of animals; on the Bible and/as literature, especially in relationship to the early modern period; and on the political culture of the seventeenth century, especially in relation to polemical language.



Research students

Current research students:

Tessa Crossley, A Systematic Study of John Milton as a Reader of the Bible, recipient of a Vice-Chancellor’s Scholarship

Joanne Hill, The Marprelate Tracts and the Representation of the Puritan Threat in Christopher Marlowe’s Works (second supervisor)  

Judith Mawer, Mysticism, Alchemy and the Eirenic Impulse: Thomas Vaughan (1621-1666)


2020 Thomas Vozar, Milton and the Sublime, recipient of an Exeter International Excellence Studentship

2018  Philippa Earle, Monism and Hybridity in Milton’s Literary Forms, AHRC funded

2018  Paul Slade, Italia Riconquistata: Italy’s Role in Milton’s Early Poetic Development

2017  Anna Blaen, The Theory and Practice of Comic Sexual Euphemism: A Comparative study of English and French Texts, c. 1578-1623, second supervisor (20%), AHRC funded.

2012  Daniel Cattell, Polemical Shakespeares: Drama and Catholic-Protestant Controversy in the English Renaissance,  AHRC funded.

2011  Taihei Hanada, Milton and the Idea of Labour: A Study in Early Modern Political Theology, ORS funded. 

2010  Charlotte Nicholls, “Your bodies may at last turn all to spirit”: Medical Science and the Anatomia Animata in Milton's Paradise Lost, AHRB funded.

2010  Elizabeth Darnill, ‘Four-fold Vision See’: Allegory in the Poetry of Edmund Spenser and William Blake, AHRB funded.

2009  Dean Thompson, Carnal Estrangements: Melancholy and the Subtextual Body, 1485-1658, awarded School of English Renaissance Fellowship.

2009  Rosemary Beckham, Apocalyptic Empowerment, AHRB funded, co-supervision with Prof. T. Gorringe, Dept. of Religion.

2008  Roxanne Grimmett, Staging Silence: Dramatic Adulteresses and the Problems of Renaissance Morality Literature, AHRB funded.

2001 Adrian Mills, The Mediated Subject: Paul Ricoeur's Infinitely Extended Poetics (joint supervision with College of St. Mark & St. John, Plymouth).




Contribution to discipline

I was co-organizer, with Professor Philip Schwyzer, of the 11th International Milton Symposium, held in Exeter in July 2015, and am now Chair of the Standing Committee of the International Milton Symposia. I am a member of the Editorial Board of Milton Studies, for which I read manuscripts. I also read manuscripts for Oxford UP, Cambridge UP, Manchester UP, Edinburgh UP, and Exeter UP and for numerous journals.


I came to Exeter University in 1992 from the US, where I was born and educated (PhD, Yale University; BA, Brown University). I had been teaching at Kenyon College (Gambier, Ohio) before moving to the UK.

Department of English   
Queen's Building                                                                    
College of Humanities                                   
University of Exeter                          
Exeter EX4 4QH
(01392) 264271                                                                                                      
1979   Ph.D., Yale University
1973   B.A., Brown University

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