Matthew P. Ritger

I study literature and drama of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, with an emphasis on poetry and politics. Areas of particular interest include the history of rhetoric and poetics, print technology and culture, carceral history, queer theory, and early modern criminal law and policy,  as well as authors including More, Shakespeare, Marvell.

My dissertation project, titled Objects of Correction: Literature and the Birth of Modern Punishment, reconstructs the early history of rehabilitative punishments, from More’s Utopia to colonial penal codes. Based in and around institutions such as London’s Protestant hospitals and Bridewell Prison, the first “house of correction,” Objects of Correction studies how literature and drama both addressed and affected penal reform in early modern England, during a crucial period in the rise of what Foucault has called “the correctional world.”

An article drawn from the first chapter of my dissertation, forthcoming in Renaissance Quarterly, focuses on  the first English translation of Thomas More’s Utopia. The publication of Ralph Robinson’s translation has been regarded by recent scholarship as part of a larger civic agenda for the Protestant reformers who promoted the book in the 1550s. My article argues that the projects of greatest relevance to Robinson’s Utopia were the house of correction at Bridewell (est. 1553-7) and the Vagrancy Act of 1547-49, which failed to introduce slavery as a punishment 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 identifiable copies catalogued by the STC) reveals how Utopia’s ideas about penal labor were often emphasized by early readers, particularly with the help of the 1556 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. 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.

At Princeton my research has been supported by grants from the Center for the Study of Religion, the Center for Digital Humanities, and the Donald and Mary Hyde Research Fellowship. In 2017-2018 I held the Arthur P. Morgan Graduate Fellowship in English. In 2018-2019 my work is supported by the Porter Ogden Jacobus Fellowship, Princeton’s highest honor for a graduate student.

While at Princeton I have also served as an adviser for undergraduate students at Mathey College and as an assistant in the Center for Digital Humanities. Previously I worked as a lecturer at Cornell University, where I taught First-Year Writing Seminars on Shakespeare, as well as introductory creative writing courses, and where I earned my MFA (2014). I hold a bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth College (2010).

Selected Publications: 


“Reading Utopia in the Reformation of Punishment.” Renaissance Quarterly 72.4, winter 2019 (forthcoming).

"Marvell's double negatives: Oliver Cromwell and 'An Horatian Ode.'" English Literary History, 85.3, fall 2018.

"Invisible Shakespeare." (link is external) Review Essay. Los Angeles Review of Books Online, April 2016. 

"The Charges: On Jorie Graham's From The New World: Poems 1976-2014.” (link is external) Los Angeles Review of Books Online, April 2015.

"Shrapnel and Song: On Contemporary Poetry from Afghanistan." (link is external) Los Angeles Review of Books Online, April 2014. 

"Translations from the Bone-House: On the Poetry of Seamus Heaney and John Hollander." (link is external) Los Angeles Review of Books Quarterly Journal, Winter 2014.