Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Mole and Rat: A chancing friendship

National Friendship Day was originally founded by Hallmark as a promotional campaign to encourage people to send cards, but is now celebrated in countries across the world on the first Sunday in August. This post celebrates the friendship of two of our favorite characters from classic literature, Rat and Mole from The Wind in the Willows.

Read More

Shakespeare and the natural world [infographic]

It is probable that Shakespeare observed, or at least heard about, many natural phenomena that occurred during his time, which may have influenced the many references to nature and science that he makes in his work. Although he was very young at the time, he may have witnessed the blazing Stella Nova in 1572.

Read More

Musical literacy in Shakespeare’s England

It is a commonplace to say that, in Renaissance England, music was everywhere. Yet, however true the statement is, it obscures the fact that music existed in many different forms, with very different functions and very different meanings.

Read More

How A. K. Ramanujan mirrored Aldous Huxley

In the 1950s and 60s a cross-section of psychologists, writers and artists in America, partly inspired by Aldous Huxley’s essay The Doors of Perception published in 1954, experimented with hallucinogenics like LSD, mescaline, mushrooms, and hashish to venture into new realms of experience, seeking the “hidden” reality of the self and the world and probing into the meaning of art to locate their inner vision.

Read More

Best beach classics: the books you should be reading this summer

In a recent article for The Huffington Post, journalist Erin Schumaker advises students not to let their brains waste away over the summer: “you might be better off skipping the beach read this summer in favor of something a little more substantive.” Yet some of us might find the idea of settling down on a sun lounger with War and Peace less than appealing. To help you out, we asked staff at Oxford University Press for a list of summer classics that will help you relax without letting your brain get lazy!

Read More

What would Shakespeare drive?

Like many Elizabethan gentlemen who had business in London but family in the provinces, Shakespeare would have spent a considerable amount of time on horseback. Few of his contemporaries, however, had Shakespeare’s talent for turning the vexations of travel into deathless verse. Sonnet 50 recounts a trip on horseback in which the poet’s reluctance to leave his beloved makes him keenly conscious of his body as a burden that increases the animal’s suffering: “The beast that bears me, tired with my woe, / Plods dully on to bear that weight in me”. According to Galenic medicine, black bile, or melancholy, was considered the heaviest of the four bodily humors.

Read More

What music would Shakespeare’s characters listen to?

Shakespeare’s characters can often appear far-removed from our modern day world of YouTube, Beyoncé and grime. Yet they were certainly no less interested in music than we are now, with music considered to be at the heart of Shakespeare’s artistic vision. Of course our offerings have come a long way since Shakespeare’s day, but we think it is a shame that they never had a chance to hear the musical delights of Katy Perry or Slipknot.

Read More

The Enlightenment and visual impairment

Blindness is a recurrent image in Enlightenment rhetoric. It is used in a political context to indicate a lack of awareness, seen in a letter from Edmund Burke to the chevalier de La Bintinnaye, in poetic rhetoric, with the stories of the blind poets Milton, Homer, and Ossian circulating among the intelligentsia of the time, or simply as a physical irritation, when writers with long lives and extensive correspondences frequently complained of their eyesight deteriorating.

Read More

When Shakespeare’s plays call for music, what kind of sound should we imagine?

Music at that time was special— magical even— and its effect would have been diminished by constant presence even if that were possible for the musicians, which it was not. David Lindley, indeed, points out that, in contrast to the modern use of filmic underscoring, music in Shakespearean theatre was ‘always part of the world of the play itself, heard and responded to by the characters on- stage’.

Read More

Shakespearian opera in the shadow of war

Over the past few years, Britain has commemorated Shakespeare’s life, works, and death in parallel with an extensive remembrance of the First World War and those who served in it. The elision of Shakespeare’s work with this particular conflict is not a new trend: 100 years ago, similar celebrations of Shakespeare were occurring in the midst of wartime, and both Britain and Germany were employing his image and plays for propaganda and recruitment purposes.

Read More

Philip K. Dick’s spiritual epiphany

In February of 1974, Philip K. Dick’s life changed. While he was recovering from dental surgery, he claims, he had a spiritual epiphany. It started with a delivery from the local pharmacy. Three days after Dick’s surgery, an order of medications arrived in the hands of a stunning delivery woman.

Read More

Shakespeare’s dramatic music

Whenever a public event requires a speech from Shakespeare to articulate the profundity of human experience, or to illustrate the cultural achievements of humankind (or perhaps Britain), there is a very good chance that someone will turn to Caliban.

Read More

Supernatural Shakespeare

How do you make fairytales into realism? Everyone agrees that doing this work means supplying them with material forms. This is not, however, a novelist’s novelty. Shakespeare’s fairies are small plant flowers and seeds, and his monster knows how to dig pignuts.

Read More

What makes Mr. Darcy desirable?

Here’s my simple question: when did we come to believe that Darcy was sexy? The popular image of Jane Austen’s Fitzwilliam Darcy today is Colin Firth, with his wet clinging shirt, later immortalized by a giant statue. In 1940 we had Laurence Olivier, with his dapper coat, gleaming eyes, and smoldering charm.

Read More

Books are for everyone at this outdoor reading room

The first thing you need to know about the Bryant Park Reading Room is that it isn’t a room. Located behind the New York Public Library in Manhattan, this open-air Reading Room sits under a leafy canopy of plane trees at the 42nd Street entrance to Bryant Park.

Read More

What Jane heard

Music is everywhere and nowhere in Jane Austen’s fiction. Everywhere, in that pivotal scenes in every novel unfurl to the sound of music; nowhere, in that she almost never specifies exactly what music is being performed. For film adaptations this absence of detail can be a source of welcome freedoms, since the imaginative gap can be variously filled by choosing more or less appropriate historical repertoire

Read More