David Lawton

David Lawton

Professor of English​
PhD, York University
research interests:
  • Medieval literatures and culture
  • Bible and religious writing
  • Chaucer, his contemporaries and successors
  • voice
  • Literary history and theory
  • drama
  • poetics
  • blasphemy
  • pain studies
  • global literatures and postcolonial studies

contact info:

mailing address:

  • Washington University
    CB 1122
    One Brookings Drive
    St. Louis, MO 63130-4899

Professor Lawton has published nine books and many articles and book chapters in English literary and cultural studies and in medieval studies. He has recently published a complete edition of Chaucer's work for Norton, and another of "The Canterbury Tales," and in 2017 published a book on voice in medieval literature.

Professor Lawton received his MA. from Oxford and his Ph.D. from the University of York, where he held his first academic post in 1974-75. He moved to the University of Sydney, Australia, in 1975, and stayed there as Reader in Early English Language Literature until 1992. From 1992 to 1995 he was Professor and Head of English in the University of Tasmania, moving to England in 1995 to be Professor of English and Chair of Literature in the School of English and American Studies at the University of East Anglia, Norwich. In 1998 he became Professor of English at Washington University, and was Chair 2002-08. He was elected Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities in 1993, was Visiting Fellow at Clare Hall, Cambridge (2009), and was Leverhulme Visiting Professor of English at the University of Oxford (2009-10). Professor Lawton has published nine books and many articles in English literary and cultural studies, in medieval studies, and in religious studies (Faith, Text and History: the Bible in English in 1991, and Blasphemy in 1993). He published Voice in Later Medieval English Literature: Public Interiorities (Oxford University Press) in 2017, The Norton Chaucer in 2019, and the Norton edition of The Canterbury Tales, also in 2019. He was founding editor of a major journal, New Medieval Literatures, and co-editor 1997-2018, and he was Executive Director of the New Chaucer Society 2002-12. He was Director of Graduate Studies in English at Sydney and here (1999-2002). He has served as main advisor on more than 20 Ph.D. dissertations, and helped steer several on to subsequent publication. Former students of his hold tenured or tenurable academic positions in Australia, Britain, Japan, Iceland and the USA. At Washington University and elsewhere he has been named an Outstanding Faculty Mentor and received awards for excellence in mentoring and teaching. David Lawton has also published poetry and journalism, and appeared on radio and television, in the US, Britain and Australia. He is a life member of Clare Hall, Cambridge, and a faculty associate in English Language and Literature at Oxford.

Courses

  • L14 2151: Literature in English: Early Texts and Contexts
  • L14 312W: The Body in Pain
  • L14 491: Chaucer
  • L14 511: Seminar: Fame, Fate and Voice in Late Medieval English Writing
  • L14 154: Literature Seminar for Freshmen: Literature and Blasphemy
  • L14 395C: Shakespeare
  • L14 3061: Old English Literature: Introduction to Old English Language and Literature
  • L14 4621: Topics in English Literature: Medieval Drama: Miracle, Mystery, Morality, and Marlowe
  • L14 365F: The Bible as Literature
Voice in Later Medieval English Literature: Public Interiorities

Voice in Later Medieval English Literature: Public Interiorities

David Lawton approaches later medieval English vernacular culture in terms of voice. As texts and discourses shift in translation and in use from one language to another, antecedent texts are revoiced in ways that recreate them (as "public interiorities") without effacing their history or future. The approach yields important insights into the voice work of late medieval poets, especially Langland and Chaucer, and also their fifteenth-century successors, who treat their work as they have treated their precursors. It also helps illuminate vernacular religious writing and its aspirations, and it addresses literary and cultural change, such as the effect of censorship and increasing political instability in and beyond the fifteenth century. Lawton also proposes his emphasis on voice as a literary tool of broad application, and his book has a bold and comparative sweep that encompasses the Pauline letters, Augustine's Confessions, the classical precedents of Virgil and Ovid, medieval contemporaries like Machaut and Petrarch, extra-literary artists like Monteverdi, later poets such as Wordsworth, Heaney, and Paul Valery, and moderns such as Jarry and Proust. What justifies such parallels, the author claims, is that late medieval texts constitute the foundation of a literary history of voice that extends to modernity. The book's energy is therefore devoted to the transformative reading of later medieval texts, in order to show their original and ongoing importance as voice work.