by Emily C. Bartels

Henry S. Turner

Henry S. Turner joined the Rutgers English faculty as an associate professor in the fall semester of 2008 as part of an initiative, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, to increase the department’s strengths in “traditional” literary fields. A specialist in Renaissance drama, Professor Turner received his PhD in 2000 from the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. He also earned an MA and an MPhil from Columbia, a BA from Wesleyan University, a Diplôme Supérieur d’Études Françaises from the University of Bourgogne, and another MA from the University of Sussex. Before attending Columbia, he taught for a year in the Department of English at the University of Nice. Turner came to Rutgers from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where he had been teaching since 2000 and where he received the English department’s Graduate Teaching Award.

Intellectually imaginative and energetic, Professor Turner is one of the few—and the finest—scholars now writing on the historical intersection of literature and science. His first book, The English Renaissance Stage: Geometry, Poetics, and the Practical Spatial Arts, 1580- 1630, was awarded honorable mention from the Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts, in competition for being the best book in interdisciplinary science studies in 2007. The book innovatively links the origins of “plot” in Renaissance drama to mathematics, arguing that the structure of dramatic action took its shape not simply from the literary precedents of Aristotelian theory, classical and medieval drama, and Italian romances, but at least as much from scientific inscriptions of space—in the fields of geometry, surveying, cartography, engineering, and navigation. Turner’s theatrical world is one deeply invested in the “productive arts” that propelled an increasing urbanization of early modern England. Demanding that we think outside the literary box to understand the materials within it, Professor Turner’s book is an engaging tour de force, which brings theatrical and material culture into a dynamic dialogue and exposes the conceptual developments that were revolutionizing literature, science, and English life in the early modern period.

Turner is gifted not only at describing provocative interdisciplinary intersections but also at making them happen. In The Culture of Capital: Property, Cities, and Knowledge in Early Modern England, Turner gathered together essays by historians and literary critics on the complex question of “capital,” creating a space where literary texts and cultural institutions, poetics and politics, have equal and interrelated play. For a new series on “Shakespeare Now!,” he brought A Midsummer Night’s Dream into the “now” by connecting Shakespearean visions of “life” and our own, structuring the book, entitled Shakespeare’s Double Helix, around the architecture of DNA by positioning its two extended essays on facing pages.

In Professor Turner’s classes at Rutgers, literature stands beside history, philosophy, psychoanalysis, politics, studies of technology, phenomenology, and French linguistic theory. He brings these disciplines to the level of “the human,” to their impact on “everyday life,” and he challenges both his graduate and his undergraduate students to engage seriously in the rich complexities that defy institutional and intellectual boundaries. In his hands, the work of William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Thomas Dekker, and Thomas Middleton, among others, become fascinating vehicles for exploring a broadly based social and scientific self-fashioning, both in the early modern period and our own. In his teaching and his scholarship, Professor Turner takes us on a lively intellectual adventure of the highest order. To borrow words from his Shakespeare’s Double Helix, his goal is to “engage with that kind of thinking, in any field, that begins by asking questions to which one does not yet know the answers and that releases itself into the unknown.” We are very lucky to have him pursue that goal at Rutgers.