Anthony Welch, associate professor of English, specializes in English Renaissance literature with an emphasis on seventeenth-century literature and the writings of John Milton. His book The Renaissance Epic and the Oral Past was recently published by Yale University Press as part of its Yale Studies in English series. The Renaissance Epic and the Oral Past considers the complex relationship between sixteenth and seventeenth–century literary epics and the oral tradition out of which the epic emerged.
As Welch argues, the evocation of oral performance by Renaissance epic writers during a time of expanding literacy reflected the search for authority and a range of often conflicted attitudes toward the classical past. Renaissance writers sought to link themselves to this earlier tradition, but they also felt estranged from it, and their attempts to translate the classical epic into modern forms measured differences as well as continuities.
In a particularly provocative chapter Welch’s book also examines the legacy of the epic in musical humanism and seventeenth-century opera, insisting on the shared concerns on the part of literature and the musical arts with orality and vocal performance. One of the book’s reviewers wrote the following: “This is a beautifully written, impeccably researched study on an important topic that will be of value to a broad audience of scholars and advanced students.” An earlier version of one of the book’s chapters, entitled “Milton’s Forsaken Proserpine” won a 2009 Milton Society of America prize for the best article in Milton Studies that year.