Russ Leo

Russ Leo
Russ Leo
Associate Professor | Director of Undergraduate Studies
7 McCosh Hall
(609) 258-6838
Office Hours: 
Tuesdays 9:00am - 11:00am and by appointment

Russ Leo specializes in early modern literature with a specific interest in the entangled histories of poetry, philosophy, and political economy in the seventeenth century.  He also specializes in theory and criticism, paying particular attention to the long histories of Spinozism in Marxism, psychoanalysis, and other theoretical traditions. Leo received his PhD in 2009 from the Program in Literature at Duke University, where he also received certificates in Feminist Studies and Interdisciplinary Medieval and Renaissance Studies.  He joined the English Department in 2012, after a three-year tenure as a Perkins-Cotsen Postdoctoral Fellow in the Society of Fellows at Princeton University.

Leo’s first book, Tragedy as Philosophy in Reformation Europe (forthcoming from Oxford University Press in January 2019) traces the emergence of distinctly philosophical ideas of tragedy, irreducible to drama or performance, inextricable from rhetoric, dialectic, and metaphysics. In its proximity to philosophy, tragedy afforded careful readers crucial insight into causality, probability, necessity, and the terms of human affect and action—that is to say, the very grounds of early modern philosophy. With these resources at hand, Reformed theologians, poets, and critics produced daring and influential theses on tragedy between the 1550s and the 1630s, all directly related to pressing Reformation debates. The first study to track the extent to which important theses on tragedy developed directly in conversation with Reformation examinations of agency, both human and divine, Tragedy as Philosophy in Reformation Europe offers new perspectives on familiar tragedians like William Shakespeare and John Milton as well as imperative (and often neglected) theses on tragedy by such figures as Desiderius Erasmus, Philipp Melanchthon, Lodovico Castelvetro, David Pareus, John Rainolds, and Daniel Heinsius.

Leo is currently at work on a second book, tentatively titled Milton, Spinoza, and the Genres of Enlightenment. Taking Milton and Spinoza as its two poles, this work examines the varieties of writing that emerged between 1660 and 1750 to address fundamental problems of desire and enthusiasm, offering a detailed sketch of an exciting and experimental period in the histories of literature and philosophy. At its core, the book retrains our attention to genres and modes of writing that are often marginalized in philosophical accounts of Enlightenment but which are actually crucial to its ideas and institutions.  Neoclassical theses on drama like those we find in Nil Volentibus Arduum’s poetics, for instance, were integral to the critique of religious enthusiasm; Eliza Heywood’s visions of desire and psychic life, in turn, are inextricable from notions of anthropology and natural religion; and Milton’s materialist investigations of providence are fundamentally related to Leibniz’s projects in the Monadology as well as the Theodicy.

Leo is also at work on a book on Spinoza, Spinozism, and the origins of political economy, tracing how Spinozan reflections on ethics and affects were integral to the study of desire, laboring bodies, and (anthropological) notions of interest and agency between 1650 and 1750.  As part of this project he is also completing a translation of the complete Preface to Spinoza’s 1677 Opera Posthuma/Nagelate Schriften, a fascinating work by Jarig Jelles (in Dutch) and Lodowick Meyer (in Latin) that offers important insight into the early international reception of the Spinoza’s ideas and legacy.

Selected Publications: 


Tragedy as Philosophy in Reformation Europe (Oxford University Press; forthcoming Winter 2019)

Fulke Greville and the Culture of the English Renaissance, Edited Essay Collection (with Katrin Röder and Freya Sierhuis)(Oxford University Press; forthcoming Fall 2018)


“Nil Volentibus Arduum, Baruch Spinoza, and the Reason of Tragedy,” in Darkness Visible: Tragedy in the Enlightenment, ed. Blair Hoxby (forthcoming)

 “Nicolas Gueudeville’s Enlightenment Utopia,” Moreana 55.1 (2018): 24–60.

“Jean Calvin and the Reformation Decensus ad Inferos,” Reformation 23.1 (2018): 53–78.

“Michel Foucault and Digger Biopolitics,” SEL: Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 58.1 (2018): 169-192.

“Milton’s Sublime Judaism and Hegel’s Religion der Erhabenheit: The Ends of Typology and the Impossibility of Christianity,” Milton’s Modernities: Poetry, Philosophy, and History from the Seventeenth Century to the Present, ed. Feisal G. Mohamed and Patrick Fadely (Northwestern University Press, 2017), 199-239.

“Paul’s Euripides, Greek tragedy and Hebrew antiquity in Paradise Regain’d,” The Seventeenth Century 31.2 (2016): 191-213. [Reprinted in Milton, Drama, and Greek Texts, ed. Tania Demetriou and Tanya Pollard (Routledge, 2017)]

“Grotius Among the Dagonists: Joost van den Vondel’s Samson, of Heilige Wraeck, Revenge and the Ius Gentium,” Politics and Aesthetics in European Baroque Tragedy, ed. Jan Bloemendal and Nigel Smith (Brill, 2016), 75-102.

“Christ’s Passion, Christian Tragedy, And Ioannes Franciscus Quintianus Stoa’s Untimely Theoandrothanatos,” Renaissance Studies 30.4 (2016): 505-525.

“Geeraardt Brandt, Dutch Tolerance, and the Reformation of the Reformation,” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 46.3 (2016): 485-511.

“Hamlet’s Early International Lives: Geeraardt Brandt’s De Veinzende Torquatus (1645) and the Performance of Political Realism,” Comparative Literature 68.2 (2016): 155-180.

“Spinoza’s Calvin: Reformed Theology in the Korte Verhandeling van God, de Mensch en Deszelfs Welstand,” The Young Spinoza, ed. Yitzhak Y. Melamed (Oxford University Press, 2015), 144-159.

“Scripture and Tragedy in the Reformation,” The Oxford Handbook of the Early Modern Bible, ed. Kevin Kileen, Helen Smith and Rachel Willie (Oxford University Press, 2015), 498-517.

“The Species-Life of Worldlings,” Spenser Studies 30 (2015): 201-227.

“Medievalism without Nostaligia: Guyon’s Swoon and the English Reformation Decensus ad Inferos,” Spenser Studies 29 (2014): 105-147.

“Affective Physics: Affectus in Spinoza’s Ethica,” Passions and Subjectivity in Early Modern Culture, ed. Brian Cummings and Freya Sierhuis (Ashgate, 2013)

“Milton’s Aristotelian Experiments: Tragedy, Lustratio, and “Secret refreshings” in Samson Agonistes (1671),” Milton Studies 52 (2011), 221-52.