Professor Karen Edwards

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 am currently co-editing a collection of essays on the historical representation of animals in literature entitled Reading Literary Animals: Medieval to Modern (forthcoming 2018). I 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.