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Laurie Shannon

Franklyn Bliss Snyder Professor of English Literature; Chair of the Department of English

J.D. Harvard Law School; PhD, University of Chicago


Laurie Shannon (J.D. Harvard Law School; Ph.D. University of Chicago) studies English literature and culture in the long sixteenth century. She has broad interests in the history of ideas in and through language, especially concerning the terms and conditions of embodiment; stakeholdership and the horizons of the political imagination; and the possibilities of the corporate form.

Shannon is the author of Sovereign Amity: Figures of Friendship in Shakespearean Contexts (Chicago, 2002), which concerns early modern appropriations of classical friendship. This tradition called the friend “another self” and two friends “one soul in two bodies.” Detailing the opposition between rules about agency and consent in the friendship pair (a utopian experiment in micro-polity) and precepts concerning disinterestedness and the public good in the bureaucratic institutions of the body politic and monarchy, the book describes an ethically adverse emergence for “liberal” subjects and state authority.

Her second book pursues similar constitutional questions beyond the border of a single species. The Accommodated Animal: Cosmopolity in Shakespearean Locales (Chicago, 2013) asks how relations across species were understood before the Cartesian confinement of nonhumans within a privative, beast-machine doctrine and the modern nominalization “the animal” to which it gave rise. Exploring sixteenth-century readings of classical natural history and of the biblical narrative in Genesis, it traces attributions of stakeholdership, prerogative, perfection, rule, and entitlement to animals within a larger zootopian constitution.  Despite a chorus of contrary claims (echoing from Aristotle to Hobbes to Agamben), early modern writers framed cross-species relations in a fundamentally political idiom. Montaigne describes humans and animals as “fellow-brethren and compeers”; Shakespeare contemplates the claims of Arden’s deer as “native burghers of this desert city.” This comparative political accommodation of animals also fuels a sharp zoographic critique of humankind: among creatures, man is not only “the most miserable and fraile” -- he plays the “tyrant,” too. Engaging early modern literature, theology, natural history, law, and anatomy, The Accommodated Animal documents a vision of cosmopolity in which stakeholdership was not confined to a human limit. It ends by analyzing the theatrics of seventeenth-century experimentation to suggest how this vision would be extinguished.

The Accommodated Animal earned the tenth annual Elizabeth Dietz Memorial Award for the best recent book in English Renaissance literary studies (read the citation).

Shannon is at work now on a monograph entitled “Frailty’s Name: Shakespeare and the Natural History of Human Being.” This book turns back to visit the question of early modern humanity —  in a frailer and defrocked condition — through the lens of “human negative exceptionalism” made visible by thinking about animal capacities in the period. How did Shakespeare and others frame what we might call “the species question” when considering humankind? Instead of an omnicompetent man, instead of the “paragon of animals,” we find an equally singular but maximally vulnerable “poor thing” or “poor wretch” — a baby abandoned on a beach, a barefoot woman keening in a threadbare blanket, a senex out of doors expostulating in a storm. Tracking a perspective that spans certain differences between humans (particularly of gender), “Frailty’s Name” adds a natural historical frame to the more familiar theological and philosophical perspectives on humanity. It anatomizes the fragilities of embodiment — our nakedness, blindness, prostration, aloneness, folly, age, and mortality — to refigure our understanding of early modern human being. This creature poses a calamity of exposure, a crisis of weather upon skin, and it makes disability, not power, the human signature. Beginning with Darwin’s engagement with this tradition and ending with a consideration of Glenda Jackson’s stagings of King Lear, “Frailty’s Name” connects the rising measure of human agency in climate crisis to our natural history as creatures defined by a vulnerability to literal weathering.

She plans an edition Of English Dogges (John Caius’s 1576 text, the first comprehensive treatment of breeds printed in English). She also has a recurring weakness for the shaggy-dog story of the early Elizabethan poet, George Gascoigne, and is developing a pair of essays on this adaptable writer and occasional theorist.

Shannon, who joined the Northwestern faculty in 2008, was awarded the Robert B. Cox Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching Award and The Dean's Award for Graduate Mentoring (both at Duke University). She has served as chair of the MLA Executive Committee of the Division on Shakespeare and as a trustee of the Shakespeare Association of America; she has held fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Shannon served as department chair 2012-15 and is now serving a second term, 2016-19.


Early Modern, Science & Literature, Gender Studies



  • “Oh that I might this life in quiet lead,” program note for Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, London, England (Winter, 2019).
  • “Poor Things, Vile Creatures: Shakespeare's Comedies of Kind,” The Oxford Handbook of Shakespearean Comedy, ed. Heather Hirschfeld (Oxford: Oxford University Press,  2018), pp. 358-373.
  • “Standing Bears, Fallen Men: Comedies of Upright Status in Shakespeare and Darwin,” selected proceedings of the 2016 World Shakespeare Congress, Shakespeare Survey, Volume 70, ed. Peter Holland (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017), pp. 219-225.
  • "'Poore wretch, laid all naked upon the bare earth': Human Negative Exceptionalism Among the Humanists," afterword to Shakespearean International Yearbook 15: Shakespeare and the Human, ed. Tiffany Werth (Farnham: Ashgate Publishing, 2015), pp. 205-210.
  • "Greasy Citizens and Tallow-Catches," contribution to Editor’s Column on literature and energy resources, PMLA, 126:2 (March, 2011), pp. 311-313.
  • "Lear’s Queer Cosmos," in Shakesqueer: A Queer Companion to The Complete Works of Shakespeare, ed. Madhavi Menon (Durham: Duke University Press, 2011), pp. 171-178.
  • "Poor, Bare, Forked: Animal Sovereignty, Human Negative Exceptionalism, and the Natural History of King Lear," Shakespeare Quarterly, 60:2 (Summer, 2009), pp. 168-196.
  • "The Eight Animals in Shakespeare; or, Before the Human," PMLA, 124:2 (March, 2009), pp. 472-479.
  • "Minerva's Men: Horizontal Nationhood and Literary Production in Googe, Turberville, and Gascoigne," The Oxford Handbook to Tudor Literature, 1485-1603, eds. Mike Pincombe and Cathy Shrank (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009). pp. 437-454.
  • "The Touch of Office: Supernumary Erotic Economies and the Tudor Public Figure," in Queer Renaissance Historiography: Backwards Gaze, Vin Nardizzi and Stephen Guy-Bray, eds. (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing, 2009), pp.135-148.
  • "Invisible Parts: Animals and the Renaissance Anatomies of Human Exceptionalism," in Animal Encounters, eds. Tom Tyler and Manuela Rossini (selected papers from the 4th Biannual European Conference of the Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts, Amsterdam, June, 2006) (Brill Publishers, Leiden, NL, 2008), pp. 137-157.
  • "Poetic Companies: Musters of Agency in George Gascoigne's 'Friendly Verse'." GLQ: A Journal of Gay and Lesbian Studies 10.3 (Spring, 2004): 453-483.
  • "La chatte de Montaigne." Dictionnaire de Michel de Montaigne. ed. Philippe Desan, (trans. Marc Schachter). Paris: Editions Champion, 2004.
  • "Likenings: Rhetorical Husbandries and Portia's 'True Conceit' of Friendship." Renaissance Drama 31 (2002): 3-26.
  • "Nature's Bias: Renaissance Homonormativity and Elizabethan Comic Likeness." Modern Philology 98.2 (2000): 183-210.
  • "'His Apparel Was Done Upon Him': Rites of Personage in Foxe's Book of Martyrs." Shakespeare Studies 28 (2000): 193-98.
  • "'The Country of Our Friendship': Jewett's Intimiste Art." American Literature 71.2 (June 1999): 227-62.
  • "Monarchs, Minions, and 'Soveraigne' Friendship." Friendship special issue, South Atlantic Quarterly 97.1 (Winter, 1998): 91-112.
  • "Emilia's Argument: Friendship and 'Human Title' in The Two Noble Kinsmen." ELH 64.3 (Sept. 1997): 657-82.
  • "The Tragedie of Mariam: Elizabeth Cary's Critique of Founding Social Discourses." English Literary Renaissance 24.1 (Winter, 1994): 135-53.

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