Rhodri Lewis

Senior Research Scholar
Lecturer with rank of Professor
Office Phone
B55 McCosh Hall
Office Hours

Spring 2024: Tuesdays from 11:00am - 1:00pm, and by appointment


After spending 23 years at the University of Oxford as a student, faculty member, and ultimately full professor — where he was also Head of Graduate Studies for the Humanities Division and Director of Ertegun House — Rhodri Lewis moved permanently to Princeton in 2018. His interests lie principally in the literary, cultural, and intellectual histories of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. (He is uncertain when this period begins and ends, but sometimes feels sure that it must run from at least as early as 1453 to at least late as 1761.) Related preoccupations include bibliography and textual criticism; the status of drama as an idea and a series of practices, both theatrical and literary; the status of early modern English as a language informed by Latin and by other European vernaculars; the diffusion and decline of humanism as a cultural and educational ideology; the history of science, the history of religion, and the history of political thought; the frequently contested lines of demarcation between human and animal forms of life; the no less frequently contested status of “poetic” (and/or “literary”) language; the history of literary criticism.

In 2017, he published Hamlet and the Vision of Darkness, a critical re-evaluation of the most famous play of all. It was a Choice “Outstanding Academic Title” for 2018. His new book, Shakespeare’s Tragic Art, builds on his account of Hamlet to offer a powerfully original reassessment of Shakespearean tragedy in the round—of what drew Shakespeare toward tragic drama, what makes his tragedies distinctive, and why they matter. At the moment, he is at work on a life of the great literary critic Frank Kermode, whose papers are now housed in the Firestone Library; once done with that, he’ll be returning to the early modern world. His research has been supported by grants and fellowships from institutions including the Leverhulme Trust, the Mellon Foundation, the British Academy, the Huntington Library, and the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. Outside the academy, he writes for publications including The Times Literary SupplementProspectThe Literary Review, and The Los Angeles Review of Books. He can be found on X/Twitter as @profrhodrilewis.

Selected Publications


Shakespeare’s Tragic Art (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2024)

Hamlet and the Vision of Darkness (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2017; paperback reissue 2020)

William Petty on the Order of Nature: An Unpublished Manuscript Treatise (Tempe, AZ: Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 2012)

Language, Mind and Nature: Artificial Languages in England from Bacon to Locke, “Ideas in Context” series, no. 80 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007; paperback reissue, 2012)



1. Shakespeare

“Polychronic Macbeth”, Modern Philology 117 (2020), 323-46.

"Shakespeare, Olaus Magnus, and Monsters of the Deep," Notes and Queries 65 (2018), 76-81

“Romans, Egyptians, and Crocodiles”, Shakespeare Quarterly 68 (2017), 320-50

“Young Hamlet”, Times Literary Supplement 5917 (2 September 2016), 15-17

“Hamlet, Metaphor, and Memory”, Studies in Philology 109 (2012), 609-41

“Two Meanings in One Word: A Note on Shakespeare’s Richard III, III.i.81-83”, Notes and Queries 59 (2012), 61-63

“Shakespeare’s Clouds and the Image Made by Chance” Essays in Criticism 62 (2012), 1-24

2. Kermode

“Kermode’s War,” Raritan 43 (2024), 122-46 

“Frankly Speaking,” Prospect (August/September 2022), 99-101

3. Bacon

“Francis Bacon and Ingenuity”, Renaissance Quarterly 67 (2014), 113-63

“Francis Bacon, Allegory and the Uses of Myth”, Review of English Studies 61 (2010), 360-89

“A Kind of Sagacity: Francis Bacon, the ars memoriae and the Pursuit of Natural Knowledge”, Intellectual History Review 19 (2009), 155-77

4. Philosophy, Science and Religion

Whose Manner of Discourse? Sir William Petty, Civility, and the Early Royal Society,” in Collected Wisdom of the Early Modern Scholar: Essays in Honor of Mordechai Feingold, ed. Gideon Manning and Anna Marie Roos (Berlin, 2023), 301-21.

“Impartiality and Disingenuousness in English Rational Religion”, in The Emergence of Impartiality, eds. Anita Traninger and Kathryn Murphy (Leiden, 2013), 224-45

“Thinking with Animals in the Early Royal Society”, in Ethical Perspectives on Animals in the Renaissance and Early Modern Period, eds. Burkhard Dohm and Cecilia Muratori (Florence, 2013), 231-56

“William Petty’s Anthropology: Religion, Colonialism, and the Problem of Human Diversity”, Huntington Library Quarterly 74 (2011), 261-88

“Hooke’s Two Buckets: Memory, Mnemotechnique and Knowledge in the Early Royal Society”, in Ars Reminiscendi: Mind and Memory in Renaissance Culture, eds. Donald Beecher and Grant Williams (Toronto, 2009), 339-63

“The Enlightenment”, in The Oxford Handbook of English Literature and Theology, eds. Andrew Hass, David Jasper and Elisabeth Jay (Oxford, 2007), 97-114

“Robert Hooke at 371”, Perspectives on Science 14 (2007), 672-87

“Of ‘Origenian Platonisme’: Joseph Glanvill on the Pre-Existence of Souls”, Huntington Library Quarterly 69 (2006), 267-300

5. Language

“The Same Principle of Reason: John Wilkins and Language”, in John Wilkins (1614-1672): New Essays, ed. William Poole (Leiden, 2017), 182-98.

“On Looking Again into Champagnolla’s Homer”, Language and History 56 (2013), 56-66

“‘The Best Mnemonicall Expedient’: John Beale’s Art of Memory and its Uses”, The Seventeenth Century 20 (2005), 113-44

“A Babel off Broad Street: Artificial Language Planning in 1650s Oxford”, History of Universities 19 (2005), 108-45

“John Evelyn, the Early Royal Society and Artificial Language Projection: a New Source”, Notes and Queries 51 (2004), 31-35

“The Publication of John Wilkins’s Essay (1668): Some Contextual Considerations”, Notes and Records of the Royal Society 56 (2002), 133-46

“The Efforts of the Aubrey Correspondence Group to Revise John Wilkins’s Essay (1668) and their context”, Historiographia Linguistica 28 (2001), 333-66

6. Miscellaneous

La morte del padre: Translating Machiavelli”, Notes and Queries 64 (2017), 249-52

“Samuel Hartlib”, “William Petty” and “John Wilkins”, in The Encyclopedia of English Renaissance Literature, eds. Alan Stewart, Garrett Sullivan, et al. (Oxford: Blackwell, 2012), 446-51, 780-82, 1057-59

“Historians, Critics and Historicists”, English Historical Review 125 (2010), 370-82

“An Early Reader of Dryden’s Absalom and Achitophel”, Notes and Queries 57 (2010), 67-69

“An Unpublished Letter from Andrew Marvell to William Petty”, Notes and Queries 53 (2006), 47-50