Rachel Eisendrath

Assistant Professor of English
Chair of Medieval and Renaissance Studies

Rachel Eisendrath specializes in sixteenth-century poetry. Her work on Renaissance poetry explores problems of aesthetics and the history of poetic forms. Her book, Poetry in a World of Things: Aesthetics and Empiricism in Renaissance Ekphrasis (University of Chicago Press, 2018), is a study of elaborate literary descriptions, or ekphrases, against the background of the early modern rise of objectivity. Drawing on Adorno, the book explores the fraught relation between aesthetic form and an increasingly empiricist understanding of the historical world. Eisendrath received a B.A. from Harvard, M.A. from St. John’s College, M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. She also studied painting and sculpture at the New York Studio School.

Academic Focus: 

Renaissance literature
Classical traditions


English Colloquium: Order & Disorder in the Renaissance
Shakespeare I
Renaissance Drama
Renaissance Epic
Elizabethan Renaissance: The Lyric
English Colloquium: Reason & Imagination in the Enlightenment
Critical Writing
Words and Pictures: Intersections of Literary and Visual Art (senior seminar)
Bad Feelings: The Uses of Literature in Difficult Times (with Julie Crawford)
Tradition and Nonconformity: Marlowe, Shakespeare, Woolf, Borges, and Baldwin (senior seminar)
Complete Nondramatic Poetry of Marlowe and Shakespeare

Awards & Honors: 

Gladys Brooks Faculty Excellence in Teaching Award, 2015

Fellowship (Short-Term), Folger Institute, 2015

Franklin Research Grant (for three months at the Huntington Library), American Philosophical Society, 2015

Barnard SAPL Grant, 2015

Barnard Mini-Grant, 2014

Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Dissertation-Year Fellowship, University of Chicago, 2010-2011

Nonfiction Writing Fellowship, New York Foundation for the Arts, 2005

Presentations / Recent Lectures: 

Lecture on current work, Early Modern English Literature Seminar, Centre for Early Modern Studies (CEMS), Merton College, University of Oxford, May 2020 (scheduled)

Roundtable on lyric poetry, 16th Century English Forum, MLA, Seattle, January 2020 (scheduled)

“The Idea’s Two Bodies: Ernst Kantorowicz’s Meta-Reflection on Intellectual History in Crisis,” two-day conference The Hollow Crown: Shakespeare and Political Theology, Kingston Shakespeare Seminar, Garrick’s Temple to Shakespeare, Hampton, UK, June 2019

“Failures of Selfhood: Augustine, Hamlet, and the Rise of the Aesthetic," Princeton University, February 2019

“Becoming a Problem to Itself: Augustine, Shakespeare, and the Aesthetic,” USC-Huntington Early Modern Studies Institute, November 2018

“Ekphrasis,” New York Studio School, November 2018

“‘Give o’er the Play’: Problems in Dispelling Illusion,” Shakespeare Associationof America, Los Angeles, March 2018

Roundtable on the future of classical reception, Renaissance Society of America, New Orleans, March 2018.

“Lyric at the Limits of Rhetoric in Shakespeare’s The Rape of Lucrece,” MLA, New York, 2018

“Imagining Things: Materialism and Aesthetics in Marlowe’s Dido, Queen of Carthage” (invited presentation, Marlowe Society of America), MLA, New York, December 2018

“The Possibilities of the Aesthetic” (invited presentation), Yale University, December 2017

"Ekphrasis and Aestheticism: Marlowe’s Hero and Leander," Sixteenth Century Society Conference, Bruges, August 2016 

Sidney and Spenser roundtable on "How to Delight and Instruct," Sixteenth Century Society Conference, Bruges, August 2016 

"Swine before Pearls: On Ugliness," New School for Social Research, October 2015 

"'Beholding it from farre': the 'real' city in proportion," Fifth International Spenser Society Conference, Dublin, June 2015 

"A History of the Ugly," Barnard Center for Research on Women, April 2015 

"Miniature Cities," Renaissance Society of America, Berlin, March 2015 

"Not Waving but Drowning: At the Seaside of Passion with Spenser," Roundtable on Spenser, Sixteenth Century Society and Conference, New Orleans, October 2014

"Who Was Simone Weil," Panel on Weil organized by Mary Gordon, Barnard College, September 2014

"The Aesthetics of Going Outside," conference on Chaucer and Spenser, University of Bristol, England, July 2014 

"'Gaudy Toys': Aesthetic Thingliness in Marlowe's Hero and Leander," Seminar in the Renaissance, Columbia University, May 2014 

"Fairer Parts, Nether Parts: Behind the Veil in Spenser's The Faerie Queene," Sixteenth Century Society and Conference, Puerto Rico, October 2013 

"Ekphrasis," introductory presentation for Ekphrazein: A Meeting of Poetry and Image, a reading of contemporary ekphrastic poetry, New York, NY, September 2013

"Ekphrasis and the Encounter with Historical Materiality: Shakespeare's The Rape of Lucrece," conference on ekphrasis sponsored by International Association of Word and Image Studies, University of Hull, England, July 2013 

"Whenever Where: The Problem of Conceptual Reification in Shakespeare's Sonnets," Shakespeare Association of America, seminar on exceptionalism in the sonnets, Toronto, March 2013

“What It Feels Like to Be a Thing: Shakespeare’s The Rape of Lucrece,” Renaissance Workshop, University of Chicago, February 2012

“Spenser and Objectification,” Renaissance Colloquium, Harvard University, November 2011

“Petrarca’s 1341 Letter from Rome: Inarticulacy and Historical Contingency,” Early Modern Interdisciplinary Conference, University of California, Berkeley, November 2011



Poetry in a World of Things: Aesthetics and Empiricism in Renaissance Ekphrasis (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018).

Articles / chapters in edited collections

"The Long Nightwatch: Augustine, Hamlet, and the Aesthetic," English Literary History (forthcoming).

“Marlowe,” in Oxford History of Poetry in English (OHOPE), vol. 4 (Sixteenth-Century British Poetry), ed. Catherine Bates and Patrick Cheney (Oxford: Oxford University Press, forthcoming). 

“Shakespearean Motifs: Repetition of the Commonplace,” in Handbook on Arthur C. Danto, ed. Jonathan Gilmore and Lydia Goehr (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell, forthcoming).

“Poetry at the Limits of Rhetoric in Shakespeare’s The Rape of Lucrece,” in Elizabethan Narrative Poems: The State of Play, ed. Lynn Enterline; series editor, Lena Orlin, et al. (London: Bloomsbury Arden Shakespeare, 2019), 45-68.

"'Lamentable objects': ekphrasis and historical materiality in Shakespeare’s The Rape of Lucrece," in Ekphrastic Encounters: New Interdisciplinary Essays on Literature and the Visual Arts, ed. David Kennedy and Richard Meek (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2018), 27-47.

"They See and Keep Silent: On Interpreting a Queen or a Poem that Looks Back at You," The Spenser Review 48.2.2 (Spring-Summer 2018).

“Object Lessons: Reification and Renaissance Epitaphic Poetry,” in The Insistence of Art: Aesthetic Philosophy after Early Modernity, edited by Paul Kottman (New York: Fordham University Press, 2017), 55-76.

"Going Outside: Aesthetics and Human Subjectivity in The Faerie Queene, Book III," special issue of Spenser Studies 30, guest eds. Ayesha Ramachandran and Melissa Sanchez (December 2015): 343-68.

"Carl Phillips: After the Afterlife of the Epic Tradition," Literary Imagination 17.1 (Oxford Journals, March 2015): 11-15.

“Art and Objectivity in the House of Busirane,” Spenser Studies 27 (2012): 133-61.

Creative nonfiction

“Household Objects,” The Threepenny Review, No. 102 (Summer 2005), 34-35.


401A Barnard Hall

Office Hours: 

Spring 2019
Wed 10-12 & by appt.


Ph.D., M.A., University of Chicago
M.A., St. John’s College
B.A., Harvard and Radcliffe Colleges