My research usually begins at the intersection of art and power in English literature and drama of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Areas of particular interest include poetry and poetics; penology and carceral history; book history; queer theory; rhetorical culture; and authors including More, Shakespeare, Marvell.
My dissertation, Objects of Correction: Literature and the Birth of Modern Punishment, constructs an imaginative and critical history of rehabilitative punishments, from Utopia to colonial penal codes. Based in and around London’s Protestant hospitals and Bridewell prison, the first “house of correction,” Objects of Correction unearths the extent to which English literature became a discipline in its own right by defining itself against early modern carceral institutions. At the same time Objects of Correction shows how literature of all genres—including prose fictions, dramatic experiences, and poetry by thinkers such as More, Shakespeare, and Milton—helped to shape the justificatory language of correction during two crucial centuries in the formation of modern penology, or during the rise of what Foucault called "the correctional world."
An article drawn from the first chapter of my dissertation, forthcoming in Renaissance Quarterly, focuses on Utopia’s well-known call to reform English punishments, as well as its imaginary systems of slavery and penal labor, as particularly pressing topics within Ralph Robinson’s earliest English translation (1551). While the publication of this translation has been regarded by recent scholarship as part of a larger agenda for Protestant reformers, who promoted the book in the 1550s alongside their other civic initiatives, such as Edward VI’s Royal Hospitals, I argue that the projects of greatest relevance to Utopia (and vice versa) were Bridewell and the Vagrancy Act of 1547-49, which had famously failed to institute penal slavery as a punishment for petty crimes in England. In support of this claim, a survey of reader interactions across a combined 30 copies of the 1551 and 1556 editions (out of 41 extant and identifiable copies catalogued by the STC) helps to reveal how Utopia’s arguments concerning punishment and penal labor were subtly but successfully emphasized for and by early modern readers, particularly with the help of the 1556 “corrected” edition’s marginal index.
Another article, unrelated to the dissertation, recently appeared in English Literary History (fall 2018): “Marvell’s double negatives: Oliver Cromwell and ‘An Horatian Ode.’” This essay seeks to establish the relation between a seldom-recognized register of sexual language within Marvell’s masterpiece “An Horatian Ode Upon Cromwell’s Return from Ireland” (1650) and two fresh contexts: first, Ben Jonson’s Cary-Morison Ode (1629-30) and second, grotesquely sexualized depictions of Cromwell in ephemeral Civil War propaganda produced between 1645-1650. Here I argue that Jonson’s (doubled) Pindaric poetics along with the shadow of anti-Cromwellian satire shape a consistent vein of innuendo running through Marvell’s poem. My analyses suggest that Marvell’s famously divided praise for Cromwell in ‘An Horatian Ode’ is more sharply ironic than has recently been thought. My readings also form the basis for a larger argument concerning Marvell’s disruptive, “double negative,” or queer episteme in both poetry and politics.
In 2018-2019 my work was awarded the Porter Ogden Jacobus Fellowship, Princeton’s highest honor for a graduate student. In 2017-2018 I held the Arthur P. Morgan Graduate Fellowship in English. My research has been supported by grants from Princeton's Center for the Study of Religion, Center for Digital Humanities, and the Donald and Mary Hyde Fellowship. On campus I've served as a residential adviser for undergraduate students in Mathey College and Butler College, and worked as an assistant in the Center for Digital Humanities.
Previously I taught as a lecturer at Cornell University, where I led First-Year Writing Seminars on Shakespeare, as well as introductory creative writing courses, and where I earned my MFA in poetry (2014). Creative work has appeared in The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Seattle Review, The Beloit Poetry Journal, and the anthology Best New Poets (2011), among others. I hold a bachelor’s degree with high honors from Dartmouth College.
Selected publications (for more see matthewritger.com):
“Reading Utopia in the Reformation of Punishment.” Renaissance Quarterly, winter 2019.
"Marvell's double negatives: Oliver Cromwell and 'An Horatian Ode,'" English Literary History, fall 2018.