Don't be discouraged by bad reviews

Everyone gets them, sometimes with that combination of spectacular vitriol and gracelessness that only academics can truly provide. My first book got middling reviews, occasionally hammered by those who read one chapter, didn’t like my translations or disagreed with a premise, and then went off on the whole thing. This is why when I review books, I always try to find something nice to say.

Spenser’s Ovidian Poetics (2009)

I began work on this book in 1998, and was motivated to finish it by the appearance of Syrithe Pugh’s marvellous Spenser and Ovid (2005; my original title), a book I highly recommend although I disagree with its main premise. The most difficult and enjoyable thing about writing it was using Elizabethan translations of Ovid to set Spenser in his poetical milieu—with no attempt to detract from his Latinity—and to determine how Ovid was received by studying translations and Spenserian reconfigurations of his work. The cover art is a Dutch engraving owned by the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford of Elizabeth as Europa, remarkable for its beauty and inventiveness and detail, and very much in Ovid’s metamorphic spirit as Spenser, I think, understood it. Jacket copy: “No history of the longstanding critical tradition of exploring the Spenser–Ovid relationship has been written. In this book Professor Stapleton constructs such a critical history: the annotations of E. K. in The Shepheardes Calender (1579), the Enlightenment editions of The Faerie Queene, the philological mode of the Spenser Variorum (1932-57), and the recent, innovative work of Harry Berger and Colin Burrow. Aside from occasional articles, no truly comprehensive analysis of their kinship as love poets exists, either. The author explores Spenser's emulation of Ovid’s amatory poetics. His humanist education trained him to find or construct analogues and etiological patterns in classical texts. Therefore, his early study of translation, intensive reading, and ‘versifying’ as an interrelated process guaranteed a densely allusive, metamorphic Ovidian poetics as a natural result.”

Admired and Understood (2004)

Behn was, for all intents and purposes, the first truly professional woman writer in English, competing in a fiercely masculine milieu, playwrighting in Carolean London. She became an important academic topic in the middle 1990’s, with most focus on her plays and prefaces and prose fiction, especially Oronooko. I was astonished that no study of her poetry existed, since this is how she thought of herself—a poet[ess]—and how she wanted to be remembered. The jacket copy: “Admired and Understood analyzes Behn’s only pure verse collection, Poems upon Several Occasions (1684), and situates her in her literary milieu as a poet. Behn’s book demonstrates her desire for acceptance in her literary culture, to be ‘admired and understood,’as she puts it, the antitheses of what many surmise from reading her other works—that she saw herself primarily as a guerilla critic of her culture’s views on race, class, and gender. The introduction to Admired and Understood argues that her colleagues thought of her as poet first, rather than as a dramatist, reviews current criticism about Behn, and provides a brief overview of late seventeenth-century poetical theory. The first chapter explains the intricately interwoven structure of Behn’s collection. The next two chapters concern intertextual linkages between Behn and Abraham Cowley, as well as the influence of Thomas Creech's translations of Horace, Theocritus, and Lucretius on her poetics. The ensuing chapters concern Behn’s response to Rochester’s libertine aesthetic, a close reading of “On a Juniper-Tree” (a poem central to her collection), Katherine Philips as Behn’s most important predecessor as a woman writing poetry, and her epistolary verse novel, A Voyage to the Isle of Love, the cornerstone and climax of her collection.”

Fated Sky (2000)

This book was an outgrowth of my interest in women characters in Shakespeare that I wrote about in my doctoral dissertation, a document that has receded into the mists of yesteryear, where it (most deservedly) belongs. Jacket blurb: “Fated Sky reinvestigates the hypothesis of Senecan influence on Shakespeare’s plays. It argues that the 1581 Elizabethan anthology, Seneca His Tenne Tragedies, Translated into Englyshe, was Shakespeare's primary sourcetext and medium for his reception, transmission, and imitation of this ancient author.” Sounds inviting! Like the Heywood edition below, so much more could have been done with the material if I’d had access to Google Books and Early English Books Online. The anthology was, in my opinion, an important book in early modern literary culture, because it was the only English translation of Seneca’s tragedies, themselves rendered into Latin from the Greek of Aeschylus, Euripides, and Sophocles. Although the translations are uneven, in the fourteeners of the old rhyming drama before the wide circulation of blank verse, they certainly preserve the plays as theatrical texts, and their portrayal of the strong women of antiquity was, I contend, a formative influence on Shakespeare as he imagined Cleopatra (Ant.), Helena (AWW), Imogen (Cym.), Katherine (Shr.), and Portia (MV), among many others. It was also fun to write, and fulfilling, though I would certainly plan my attack differently now. I did not have room for one of Shakespeare’s most intriguing creations, Margaret of Anjou, who is the only character who appears in four of his plays, but I was lucky enough to write and publish an article on her, available here.

Thomas HeywoodsArt of Love” (2000)

This was my first foray into textual editing, which has served me well. I got one middling review in the august Review of English Studies by someone who got my name wrong and kept referring to me as “Thompson.” Then I received a very kind notice by one of my peers in early modern Ovid studies, which stunned me with its generosity. The companion piece to this volume is my edition of the English translation of the Remedia Amoris, which had always been attributed to Sir Thomas Overbury, but which I maintain was also a Heywood production, which can be accessed here. This book was the reason I first had cause to work at the British Library and the Bodleian, though most of my productive research was conducted at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas. Jacket description: “Thomas Heywood (ca. 1573-1641) was a major Renaissance playwright who wrote or collaborated on over two hundred plays. Loues Schoole was one of his many nondramatic works that shows his fascination with antiquity. It was the standard English translation of the Ars amatoria in the seventeenth century, so popular that it was pirated almost as soon as he had written it—then printed, sold, reprinted, and resold in England and the Netherlands. It was not attributed to him during his lifetime, and he was not allowed to share in the profits that its (considerable) sales generated, two things that rankled him for the rest of his life. This is understandable because it is an excellent translation into English heroic verse, accurate without stuffiness, colloquial without indecorousness. Twenty years after Heywood’s death, Loues Schoole was pirated yet again and went to six different editions during the Restoration (1662-84). The present edition represents the first instance in which the translation has been edited in a scholarly manner. Besides a full Introduction that accounts for the history of Loues Schoole, Ovid in the English Renaissance, and the editorial method, each of the three books of the poem includes a Commentary that provides cross-references within the text; glosses for unusual, archaic, or regional forms peculiar to Heywood’s English; annotations from sourcebooks that Heywood used to identify or understand characters from classical history, literature, and mythology; and explanations for any emendations the editor deemed necessary. In his efforts to make the Ars a seventeenth-century poem, Heywood contemporizes Ovid’s references to dress, behavior, courtship, marriage, games, theater, agriculture, horsemanship, war, literature—all of which the Commentary explains at great length.”

Harmful Eloquence (1996)

This was my first book and still my favorite, extremely enjoyable and fulfilling to write. It’s not always easy to find any more. Here’s a link. Jacket description: “M. L . Stapleton’s Harmful Eloquence: Ovids Amores from Antiquity to Shakespeare traces the influence of the early elegiac poetry of Ovid (43 BCE–17 CE) on European literature from 500–1600. The Amores served as a classical model for love poetry in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance and were essential to the formation of finAmors, or “courtly love.” Medieval Latin poets, the troubadours, Dante, Petrarch, and Shakespeare were all familiar with Ovid in his various forms, and all depended greatly upon his Amores in composing their cansos, canzoniere, and sonnets.
Harmful Eloquence begins with a detailed analysis of the Amores itself and its artistic unity. It moves on to explain the fragmentary transmission of the Amores in the Latin Anthology and the cohesion of the fragments into the conventions of Medieval Latin and troubadour poetry. Two subsequent chapters explain the use of the Amores, their narrator, and the conventions of finAmors in the poetry of both Dante and Petrarch. The final chapter concentrates on Shakespeare’s reprocessing and parody of this material in his sonnets. Harmful Eloquence analyzes the intertextual transmission of the Amores in major medieval and Renaissance love poetry for the first time. No previous study has devoted itself exclusively to this Ovidian text in this particular way. The premise that Ovid consciously used the device of persona from the very beginning of his writing life is maintained throughout.”