Close Readings

Our pioneering podcast subscription: two contributors explore an area of literature through a selection of key works, providing an introductory grounding like no other.

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Medieval LOLs: Fabliaux

Mary Wellesley and Irina Dumitrescu, 18 April 2024

18 April 2024 · 41mins

Fabliaux were short, witty tales originating in northern France between the 12th and 14th centuries, often featuring crafty characters in rustic settings and overwhelmingly concerned with money and sex. In this episode Irina and Mary look at two of these comic verses, both containing surprisingly explicit sexual language, and consider the ways in which they influenced Boccaccio, Chaucer and others.

Human Conditions: ‘The Human Condition’ by Hannah Arendt

Judith Butler and Adam Shatz, 18 April 2024

10 April 2024 · 12mins

In the fourth episode of Human Conditions, the last of the series with Judith Butler, we fittingly turn to The Human Condition (1956).  Judith and Adam discuss Hannah Arendt’s continued relevance and shortcomings, the book’s many surprising and baffling turns, and the transformative power of forgiveness.

On Satire: The Earl of Rochester

Clare Bucknell and Colin Burrow, 18 April 2024

4 April 2024 · 13mins

According to one contemporary, the Earl of Rochester was a man who, in life as well is in poetry, ‘could not speak with any warmth, without repeated Oaths, which, upon any sort of provocation, came almost naturally from him.’ Clare and Colin consider why Restoration England was such a satirical hotbed, and describe the ways in which Rochester, with a poetry rich in bravado but shot through with anxiety, transformed the persona of the satirist.

Political Poems: 'Easter 1916' by W.B. Yeats

Seamus Perry and Mark Ford, 18 April 2024

28 March 2024 · 33mins

Yeats’s great poem about the uprising of Irish republicans against British rule on 24 April 1916 marked a turning point in Ireland’s history and in Yeats’s career.

Among the Ancients II: Herodotus

Emily Wilson and Thomas Jones, 18 April 2024

24 March 2024 · 10mins

Some of the most compelling stories of the Classical world come from Herodotus‘ Histories, an account of the Persian Wars and a thousand things besides. Emily and Tom chart a course through Herodotus‘ history-as-epic, discussing how best to understand his approach to history, ethnography and myth.

 

Medieval LOLs: Old English Riddles

Irina Dumitrescu and Mary Wellesley, 18 April 2024

18 March 2024 · 41mins

Riddles are an ancient and universal form, but few people seem to have enjoyed them more than English Benedictine monks. The Exeter Book, a tenth century monastic collection of Old English verse, builds on the riddle tradition in two striking ways: first, the riddles don’t come with answers; second, they are sexually suggestive.

10 March 2024 · 12mins

At turns expressionistic, confessional, clinical, sharply satirical and politically charged, Black Skin, White Masks is dazzlingly multivocal, sometimes self-contradictory but always compelling. Judith Butler and Adam Shatz, whose biography of Fanon was released in January, chart a course through some of the most explosive and elusive chapters of the book, and show why Fanon is still essential reading.

On Satire: Ben Jonson’s ‘Volpone’

Clare Bucknell and Colin Burrow, 10 April 2024

4 March 2024 · 11mins

What did English satirists do after the archbishop of Canterbury banned the printing of satires in June 1599? They turned to the stage, and at the heart of the scene was Ben Jonson. Colin and Clare look at Jonson's finest play, Volpone, and challenge his traditional reputation as a refined, classical alternative to Shakespeare.

Political Poems: W.H. Auden's 'Spain 1937'

Seamus Perry and Mark Ford, 18 April 2024

28 February 2024 · 42mins

In their second episode, Mark and Seamus look at W.H. Auden's ‘Spain’. Auden travelled to Spain in January 1937 to support the Republican efforts in the civil war, and composed the poem shortly after his return a few months later to raise money for Medical Aid for Spain. It became a rallying cry in the fight against fascism, but was also heavily criticised.

Among the Ancients II: Aesop

Emily Wilson and Thomas Jones, 18 April 2024

24 February 2024 · 10mins

Supposedly an enslaved man from sixth-century Samos, Aesop might not have ever really existed, but the fables attributed to him remain some of the most widely read examples of classical literature. Emily and Tom discuss how Aesop’s fables as we know them came to be, make sense of their moral contradictions and unpack some of the fables that are most opaque to modern readers.

Medieval LOLs: How to Swear in Latin

Irina Dumitrescu and Mary Wellesley, 18 April 2024

18 February 2024 · 34mins

All teachers know that the best way for students to learn a language is through swear words, and nobody knew this better than Aelfric Bata, a monk from Winchester whose Colloquies, compiled in around the year 1000, instructed pupils to swear in Latin with elaborate and vivid fluency.

Human Conditions: ‘The Second Sex’ by Simone de Beauvoir

Judith Butler and Adam Shatz, 18 April 2024

10 February 2024 · 11mins

Dazzling in its scope, The Second Sex incorporates anthropology, psychology, historiography, mythology and biology to ask an ‘impossible’ question: what is a woman? Judith Butler and Adam Shatz discuss the book’s startling relevancy for contemporary feminism, Beauvoir’s refusal to call herself a philosopher and the radical possibilities released by her claim that one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.

On Satire: John Donne's Satires

Clare Bucknell and Colin Burrow, 18 April 2024

4 February 2024 · 12mins

In the second episode of their series on satire, Colin and Clare look at the dense, digressive and often dangerous satires of John Donne and other poets of the 1590s. 

Among the Ancients II: Hesiod

Emily Wilson and Thomas Jones, 10 April 2024

24 January 2024 · 14mins

Emily and Tom return to the 8th century BCE to explore Homer’s near contemporary, Hesiod. In Works and Days, Hesiod weaves his curmudgeonly persona into a brilliantly comic narrative that encompasses everything from brotherly bickering to cosmic warfare.