The University of Massachusetts Amherst
HFA - College of Humanities & Fine Arts view HFA submenu
Section Menu

Jane Hwang Degenhardt

Associate Professor and Associate Director of Graduate Studies

picture of Jane Hwang Degenhardt

(413) 545-5498

W333 South College

Jane Hwang Degenhardt received her BA from Hamilton College and her PhD in English from the University of Pennsylvania. Her research and teaching interests include Shakespeare, non-Shakespearean Renaissance drama, gender and race studies, Asian American literature, and African American literature.

Professor Degenhardt’s book, Islamic Conversion and Christian Resistance on the Early Modern Stage (2010), explores Christian-Muslim encounter in twelve plays written by Shakespeare and his contemporaries. Focusing on the stage’s treatment of religious conversion as a sexual seduction, it demonstrates how “turning” to Islam was imagined to have physical and reproductive consequences, as well as to endanger Christian souls. More particularly, this study considers how the embodied threats associated with conversion to Islam put pressure on Protestant understandings of religious identity that were predominantly spiritual in nature, reinvigorating Catholic models of resistance involving the erotics of virginity, relics, blood, torture, and martyrdom.

More broadly, Professor Degenhardt’s interest in the dramatic staging of religious phenomena informs her teaching, including a seminar on “Religion, Magic, and the Renaissance Stage.” Her explorations of the relationship between popular drama and religious culture have also led to a collection of essays, coedited with Elizabeth Williamson, titled Religion and Drama in Early Modern England: The Performance of Religion on the Renaissance Stage (2011).

Currently, Professor Degenhardt is working on a new book entitled *Fortune’s Empire: Chance, Providence, and Overseas Ventures in Early Modern English Drama*. Offering in-depth discussions of plays by Shakespeare, Marlowe, Heywood, and others, this study considers how England’s economic expansion through global commerce and nascent colonial exploration produced new understandings of the roles of fortune, fate, and freewill in the world. It demonstrates how England’s economic transformation heightened awareness of the power of fortune--both as a cosmic force of chance and as an emerging understanding of wealth that was earned rather than inherited. Drawing attention to an archive of plays dramatizing maritime travel, trade, and exploration, the book shows how the popular theater played a vital role in shaping and critiquing these evolving understandings of fortune and cultivating proper ethical responses to new forms of economic investment.