AboutDr Rachel E. Holmes was awarded her PhD in 2014. Since then, she has been a Research Associate at the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences, and Humanities (CRASSH) and the Faculty of English at the University of Cambridge and a Junior Research Fellow at Wolfson College, Cambridge. She has taught at the Universities of Cambridge, St Andrews, and Edinburgh. In September 2018, Rachel joined the Department of English Language and Literature at University College London as a Teaching Fellow in Shakespeare and Renaissance Literature.
Rachel works transnationally on early modern European law and literature, with research and teaching interests in Early modern literature and culture (c.1475–c.1660); Shakespeare; Renaissance drama; rhetoric; poetics; interdisciplinarity; law and literature; adaptation and translation; intertextualities; pedagogy; philology; transnationalism; comparative literature; history of sexuality; and legal history.
She is currently revising for publication a monograph on clandestine contracts in early modern European law and literature for which she was awarded a Laura Bassi Scholarship as a junior academic in Summer 2019. This monograph draws on original-language literary and legal sources to trace the journey across early modern Europe of the tales of Romeo and Juliet, the Duchess of Malfi, and the siblings Claudio and Isabella in Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure. These are tales of clandestine marriage, the mediaeval institution of Christian marriage undertaken outside the recognition of legal authorities, which was increasingly the object of renegotiation across early modern Europe. Clandestine marriage was a pressure point because its illicitness undermined marriage as a managed exogamy, posing a threat to social controls, familial expectations, and honour. This monograph shows that the relationship between versions of these tales is shaped in part by legal anxieties about clandestine marriage and demonstrates the centrality of legal questions to transnational literary adaptation.
Rachel is also developing a second monograph project, which starts from the observation that ‘rape’ is neither an objectively knowable entity, nor an objective category; it is defined in opposition to different forms of ‘legitimate’ sexual relation in historically contingent ways. While early modern legal definitions of rape remain relatively undeveloped, the frequent narration of sexual crimes in early modern European literature is indicative of a keen social interest in the high stakes of distinguishing rape from other kinds of sexual relation. These legally-inflected concerns are crucial to both early modern Europe and our present moment.