Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World


What defines good writing?

What distinguishes good writing from bad writing? How can people transform their writing to make it more powerful and more effective? Are universities teaching students how to become better writers? In order to answer these questions and others, we sat down with Geoffrey Huck, an associate professor of the Professional Writing Program at York University.

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Shakespeare the Classicist

The traditional view of Shakespeare is that he was a natural genius who had no need of art or reading. That tradition grew from origins which should make us suspect it. Shakespeare’s contemporary Ben Jonson famously declared that Shakespeare had ‘small Latin and less Greek’.

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Distinctive dress: Martial’s index to life in a crammed metropolis

His books are famous around the world, but their author struggles to get by – two themes that quickly become familiar to any reader. Martial has an eye for fabric. He habitually ranks himself and judges others by the price and quality of their clothing and accessories (e.g. 2.29, 2.57), a quick index in the face-to-face street life of the crammed metropolis.

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Spectre and Bond do the damage

The durable Bond is back once more in Spectre. Little has changed and there has even been reversion. M has back-morphed into a man, Judi Dench giving way to Ralph Fiennes. 007 still works miracles, and not the least of these is financial – Pinewood Studios hope for another blockbuster movie. Hollywood roll over and die.

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The literary fortunes of the Gunpowder Plot

The conspirators in what we now know as the Gunpowder Plot failed in their aspiration to blow up the House of Lords on the occasion of the state opening of parliament in the hope of killing the King and a multitude of peers. Why do we continue to remember the plot? The bonfires no longer articulate anti-Roman Catholicism, though this attitude formally survived until 2013 in the prohibition against the monarch or the heir to the throne marrying a Catholic.

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Shakespeare and the suffragettes

The nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were famously the age of “Bardolatry,” Shakespeare-worship that permeated artistic, social, civic, and political life. As Victorian scientific advances including Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, published in On the Origin of Species (1859), destabilised Christianity as ultimate arbiter of truth, rhetoricians invoked Shakespeare’s plots and characters to support their arguments.

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The Magic Fix: De Quincey’s portrait of the artist as addict

Thomas De Quincey produced two versions of his most famous work, Confessions of an English Opium-Eater. He launched himself to fame with the first version, which appeared in two instalments in the London Magazine for September and October 1821, and which created such a sensation that the London’s editors issued it again the following year in book form.

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A Very Short (and spooky) Introduction to Halloween

It’s that time of year when pumpkin sales go soaring, horror specials sell out at the cinema, and everyone is seemingly dressed up as a vampire or a zombie. To mark the spookiest time of year, we wanted to give you a Very Short Introduction to some of our favourite Halloween themes with free chapters from VSI Online.

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9780199686650 Dickens_the_uncommercial_traveller

Dickens’ fascination with London [map]

At the height of his career – during the time he was writing Great Expectations and Our Mutual Friend – Dickens wrote a series of sketches, mostly set in London, which he collected as The Uncommercial Traveller. The persona of the ‘Uncommercial’ allowed Dickens to unify his series of occasional articles by linking them through a shared narrator.

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Roman author, Greek genre: Martial’s use of Epigrams

An epigram is a short poem, most often of two or four lines. Its typical metre is the elegiac couplet, which is also the metre of Roman love poetry (elegy) and the hallmark of Ovid. In antiquity it was a distinctively Greek literary form: Roman writers were never comfortable in it as they were in other imported genres, such as epic and elegy. When they dabbled in epigram they often used Greek to do so. Martial’s decision to write books of Latin epigrams, and nothing else, is thus a very significant departure.

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Genius loci: war poets of place

It’s curious how intensely some writers, especially poets, respond to place. Wordsworth and the Lake Poets, of course, John Clare at Helpston, and Thomas Hardy’s Wessex. But there are earlier names: William Cowper and Olney, Alexander Pope’s Windsor or Twickenham, Charles Cotton in Derbyshire…

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“There is figures in all things”: Historical revisionism and the Battle of Agincourt

Young Cressingham, one of the witty contrivers of Thomas Middleton’s and John Webster’s comedy Anything for a Quiet Life (1621), faces a financial problem. His father is wasting his inheritance, and his new stepmother – a misogynistic caricature of the wayward, wicked woman – has decided to seize the family’s wealth into her own hands, disinheriting her husband’s children.

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OWC Reading Group

Introducing Martial: Epigrams

Who is ‘Martial’? “Up to this point, Madam, this little book has been written for you. You want to know for whom the bits further in are written? For me.” (3.68) Marcus Valerius Martialis was born some time around AD 40 (we know his birthday, 1st March, but not the year) at Bilbilis in Hispania Tarraconensis, a province of oil- and wine-rich Roman Spain.

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