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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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Which literary couple are you and your beau? [quiz]

Love and literature are perfect companions. Love has been, and continues to be, an inspiration for famous and celebrated authors around the world, who have written great literary masterpieces on romantic infatuations and passions. The characters they depict make a lasting impression on us, the readers – after all, who hasn’t dreamed of the Juliet to their Romeo, or the Ron to their Hermoine?

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Shakespeare and sex

Shakespeare made many gifts to the English language, but his most memorable gift in the particularly rich and rarefied area of euphemisms for sexual intercourse comes in the opening scene of Othello, when Iago strives to provoke Desdemona’s father Brabantio to outrage with the news that ‘your daughter and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs.’

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The shame of marriage in Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure

When the Supreme Court concluded the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges hearings with a 5–4 vote to legalize same–sex marriage, the majority and dissent disagreed as on the place of marriage in constitutional law, a question related to divergent views of the institution’s historical purpose. The majority insisted that marriage has always been about love and companionship, the dissent that it has always been procreation.

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Whose chat-up line is it anyway?

Along with death and trees, love is probably the most commonly explored theme in literature. So many of our favorite maxims and aphorisms about love are drawn from classical fiction. But how well do we really know these quotes or the novels and poems from which they derive?

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A history of the poetry of history

History and poetry hardly seem obvious bed-fellows – a historian is tasked with discovering the truth about the past, whereas, as Aristotle said, ‘a poet’s job is to describe not what has happened, but the kind of thing that might’. But for the Romans, the connections between them were deep: historia . . . proxima poetis (‘history is closest to the poets’), as Quintilian remarked in the first century AD. What did he mean by that?

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Illuminating Shakespeare

Sex, love, and Shakespeare [slideshow]

Whether he fills his scenes with raunchy innuendos, or boldly writes erotic poetry, or frequently reverses the gender norms of the time period, Shakespeare addresses the multifaceted ways in which sex, love, marriage, relationships, gender, and sexuality play an integral part of human life.

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How English became English – and not Latin

English grammar has been closely bound up with that of Latin since the 16th century, when English first began to be taught in schools. Given that grammatical instruction prior to this had focused on Latin, it’s not surprising that teachers based their grammars of English on Latin. The title of John Hewes’ work of 1624 neatly encapsulates its desire to make English grammar conform to that of Latin.

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Illuminating Shakespeare

5 facts about marriage, love, and sex in Shakespeare’s England

Considering the many love affairs, sexual liaisons, and marriages that occur in Shakespeare’s plays, how many of them accurately represent their real-life counterparts? Genuine romantic entanglements certainly don’t work out as cleanly as the ending of Twelfth Night, where Sebastian and Olivia, Duke Orsino and Viola, and Toby and Maria all wind up as married couples.

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The truth about “Auld Lang Syne”

Over the years since it was written, many millions must have sung ‘Auld Lang Syne’ (roughly translated as ‘days long past’) while sharing Mr. Micawber’s ignorance of what of its words actually mean. Most of us go through the year without singing a single song by Robert Burns, and then, within the space of 25 days, sing this one twice on January 1st and 25th

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The Guru’s warrior scripture

The scripture known as the Dasam Granth Sahib or the ‘Scripture of the Tenth King,’ has traditionally been attributed to Guru Gobind Singh. It was composed in a volatile period to inspire the Sikh warriors in the battle against the Moghuls, and many of the compositions were written for the rituals related to the preparation for war (Shastra puja) and for the battlefield.

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Shakespeare and conscience

At the outset of an undergraduate Shakespeare course I often ask my students to make a list of ten things that may not, or do not, exist. I say “things” because I want to be as vague as possible. Most students submit lists featuring zombies and mermaids, love charms and time travel. Hogwarts is a popular place name, as are Westeros and Middle Earth. But few students venture into religious territory.

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What was Shakespeare’s religion?

What was Shakespeare’s religion? It’s possible to answer this seemingly simple question in lots of different ways. Like other English subjects who lived through the ongoing Reformation, Shakespeare was legally obliged to attend Church of England services. Officially, at least, he was a Protestant. But a number of scholars have argued that there is evidence that Shakespeare had connections through his family and school teachers with Roman Catholicism, a religion which, through the banning of its priests, had effectively become illegal in England.

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Illuminating Shakespeare

Sources for Shakespeare’s biography

When opening a work of Shakespearean biography, it’s not unusual to find some sort of lament about a lack of data – albeit that it quickly becomes clear that this has not stood in the way of producing a substantial volume. However, rather than dwell on how this can still be done, perhaps we should re-examine what we mean when we say there is little to go on.

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Illuminating Shakespeare

Shakespeare and religion in 16th and 17th century England

The politics and religious turmoil of 16th century England provided Shakespeare with the fascinating characters and intriguing plots. From the publication of Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses in 1517, which some historians argue ignited the Protestant cause, to the publication of the Geneva Bible in 1560, English religious history has dramatically influenced Shakespeare’s work.

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Thomas Paine’s Common Sense turns 240 years old

Some writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them; whereas they are not only different, but have different origins. Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness; the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first a patron, the last a punisher.

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How do you pronounce “Pulitzer?”

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Pulitzer Prize, the annual prize in journalism and letters established by the estate of Joseph Pulitzer in 1916 and run by the Columbia School of Journalism (also established by Pulitzer’s estate). The first Pulitzer Prizes in reporting were given in 1917 to Herbert Bayard Swope of New York World for a series of articles titled “Inside the German Empire” and to the New York Tribune for its editorial on the first anniversary of the sinking of the Lusitania.

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