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UNT Insider | July 2013 issue | English professor's award-winning essay explores treason

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English professor's award-winning essay explores treason

From a UNT News Service press release

Kevin Curran

Kevin Curran

Kevin Curran, associate professor of English, has received the 2013 Martin Stevens Award for Best Essay in Early Drama for his analysis of treason in the early 17th century play, The Tragedy of Philotas, by English poet and playwright Samuel Daniel. Curran's essay, Treasonous Silence: The Tragedy of Philotas and Legal Epistemology, examines the play's critical and imaginative treatment of treason during the Renaissance period.

"Jurists and philosophers today continue to wrestle with this," says Curran, whose research expertise is in English Renaissance theatre and literature, with specific interests in Shakespeare, law, and intellectual history.

"I am interested in pushing legal subject matter into a broader metaphysical frame of reference. I want to explore how thinking about law also involves thinking about what it means to be a person," Curran says. "Law, after all, is just one strand in a much larger and very tangled history of ideas. The Tragedy of Philotas bears this out in a really interesting way."

The Medieval and Renaissance Drama Society, which is devoted to the study of early drama, gives the annual award in recognition of an essay that exemplifies excellence in humanities scholarship. In 2012, Curran's essay appeared in the journal, English Literary Renaissance. The essay proposes that The Tragedy of Philotas explores the philosophical questions that were central to the concerns of the culture in which it was produced.

Curran says the play was written at a time when the law of treason had been revised many times to suit the whims of rulers, beginning with Henry VIII in the early 1500s and continuing through the early 1600s during the reign of King James I. The Renaissance was a time of questioning authority, traditions, and the nature of knowledge itself. The rise of scientific inquiry was influencing religious and philosophical thought, and skepticism and curiosity for new ideas was infiltrating the legal realm.

Daniel's play explores the legal framework of the law in this cultural context of philosophical and imaginative thinking. Yet the playwright paid a price for these investigations. The play was viewed as being politically subversive, and Daniel was called before the King's Privy Council to explain himself. Although his name was ultimately cleared, his reputation never rebounded. The Tragedy of Philotas remains a chronicle for ideas debated in his day.

Curran is preparing an edition of The Tragedy of Philotas for publication by Manchester University Press as part of the "Revels Plays" series.

About Kevin Curran

Kevin Curran, associate professor of English, is the author of the book, Marriage, Performance, and Politics at the Jacobean Court, and editor of a new book series, Edinburgh Critical Studies in Shakespeare, Theory, and Performance. Curran has received grants and fellowships from the Folger Shakespeare Library, the Huntington Library, the Bibliographical Society of America, and the Harry Ransom Research Center, among others. He also is the founder and convener of UNT's Medieval and Renaissance Colloquium. His undergraduate and graduate classes explore diverse topics specific to Renaissance culture, including Shakespeare: theater, history, philosophy; Renaissance literature and the legal imagination; and Shakespeare and law. He is currently writing a book called Law and Selfhood in Shakespeare.

Julie West can be reached at


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July 2013

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