Dennis Britton, assistant professor of English, has been awarded a year-long National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC. The fellowship will allow him to complete research and make final revisions to his current book project, “Becoming Christian: Race, Reformation, and Early Modern English Romance.” The fellowship will take place during the 2012-13 academic year.
Britton’s monograph is the first to explore the role of race in the Church of England’s baptismal theology and literary representations of “infidels”—specifically Jews, Turks, and Moors—converting to Christianity in early modern English romance. Catholic romances emphasized baptism’s magical power to transform infidels into faithful Christians. However, theologians within the Church of England denied the miraculous power of baptism, even debating whether or not it was necessary for salvation. In fact, many English theologians asserted that salvation could be assured by one’s race and lineage. Britton contends that baptismal theology and emerging concepts of race provide a not-yet-recognized context for understanding why works such as Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene and William Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice and Othello transform and, at times, explicitly reject the infidel conversion motif.
The Folger Shakespeare Library is home to the world’s largest and finest collection of Shakespeare materials and to major collections of other rare Renaissance books, manuscripts, and works of art.