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Unruly Keepers: Ethics of Time and Difference in Early Modern English Texts

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Unruly Keepers traces the tested ethics of keeping time. Presented throughout the pages of early modern English writing, this crucial component to temporal politics has been largely overlooked in literary studies, until now. By focusing on disruptively monstrous, queer, technological, and magical timescapes, Unruly Keepers uncovers how competing approaches to understanding time's passage stimulate moral comparisons and critiques through a wide range of texts. In poetry, plays, and even popular ephemera, writers call on their readers to confront the influential role time can play in social marginalization and the restriction of alternative forms of life. To “keep time well” is no simple task; instead, timekeeping activates intense uncertainties about how being in time comes to matter—ideologically, materially, morally—within the politically-charged motions of daily life. This project offers new readings of several well-known texts by William Shakespeare, Thomas Middleton, Richard Hakluyt, and Isabella Whitney and also surfaces the significance of more obscure works by centering their shared concerns over the ethical ambiguities of time management. This project also brings a more in-depth examination of the material archive and history of science to bear on literary understandings of temporal experience in the period. With its fresh approach, Unruly Keepers ultimately reconceptualizes how and why we study early modern time today by demonstrating the powerful role time-practices play in negotiating ideas of otherness and the politics of difference in early modern England.

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This item is under embargo until June 11, 2026.