Dr Ben Higgins

  • Shakespeare studies
  • The early modern book trade
  • The history of libraries
  • Manuscript circulation networks


My research concentrates on both the early modern book trade and the literature of that period. In particular, I am interested in the scrappy, ragged, 'forgotten middlemen of literature', as Robert Darnton has called the denizens of the world of early print, and the influence these individuals had on the intellectual and literary cultures of the English Renaissance. I also research the history of libraries and of book organisation; the early reception of Shakespeare's writings; Shakespearean apocrypha and the scholarly ideologies that lie behind such canonical manoeuvres; and the lyric poetry of John Donne.

My doctoral thesis provided the first full account of the consortium of five publishers who financed Shakespeare's First Folio of 1623. I suggested ways that their particular careers and involvement with Shakespeare contributed meaning to the Folio, and in essence argued that the publishing reputations of these five stationers, based on their publishing specialisms, but also the wider social and professional relationships they cultivated, conferred considerable status upon the Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies. Ultimately, I argue these stationers deeply influenced the trajectory of the Folio's rise towards cultural stardom. I am currently writing a monograph based on my thesis, entitled The Publishers of Shakespeare's First Folio. Alongside this project, I have just finished an article that reveals a new early seventeenth century owner of a Shakespeare Folio. The article discusses this instance of ownership in the context of the private library in which I discovered it.

I am also a volume editor for the 'Stationers' Register Online' project, led by Giles Bergel and Ian Gadd. I am volume editor for 'Register D' of the Stationers' Company archives, which contains the entrance of manuscripts and reassigned printed copies between 1620 and 1641. The project will provide scholars of the early modern period with an invaluable update to Edward Arber's nineteenth century transcription of the Stationers' Register, and foster new modes of scholarship at the confluence of book history and literary criticism.



 Here in Oxford I teach both Final Honours students and Prelims. For the Final Honours School, I teach any literature produced between 1550 and 1760, which means:

  • Paper 3 (Literature produced between 1550-1660)
  • Paper 4 (Literature produced between 1660-1760)
  • Paper 1 (Shakespeare)

For Prelims I teach Paper 1b (Approaches to Literature). In 2017, I also share the teaching of the B Course (Material Texts) for our M. St (1550-1700), with Professor Adam Smyth. We each teach one-half of the course, which provides graduate students with an intensive introduction to bibliography, book history, and textual scholarship for the study of literature. 

In Trinity Term, I have a lecture series on 'Shakespeare's Apocrypha', which introduces students to the shady penumbra of texts that have variously been attributed to or deattributed from the Shakespeare canon. Each lecture concentrates on one such text in detail, discussing the content of the play before examining the rationale and ideological values that have moved it in or out - or both - of the canon. 

I also supervise dissertations at both undergraduate and M.St level, and am open to any students interested in the research areas discussed above. For the 2017-18 academic year I sit on the Final Honours School examination board, and set the examination paper for the Renaissance (Paper 3), as well as mark Renaissance dissertations.



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