Professor Ceri Sullivan
''Language most shows a man: speak that I may see thee". Jonson's confidence in his ability to read through the rhetoric is a constant challenge, and my four monographs have browsed, sheeplike, over this terrain.
The first deals with whether one may persuade oneself in devotion, focusing on Catholic texts (Dismembered Rhetoric: English Recusant Writing 1580-1603). The second muses over how a merchant represents himself and reads others' representations in the real and dramatic markets (The Rhetoric of Credit: Merchants in Early Modern Writing). A third asks whether, if the conscience is structured as a language, the consequence of the divine I AM is YOU AREN'T (The Rhetoric of the Conscience in Donne, Herbert and Vaughan). The fourth, Literature in the Public Service: Sublime Bureaucracy, reassesses Max Weber's understanding of the individual in the ideal bureaucracy, and recognises the past and current relationship between creativity and bureaucracy.
My next book (2018) will be The Playscripts of Early Modern Private Prayer (Shakespeare's History Plays). Imagine a society where every single adult was trained in - and practised - composing short original texts, every single day. This project asks an audacious but compelling question: at the turn of the seventeenth century, did changes in writing private prayers underlie major developments in drama? Required to pray independently, convinced their private prayers had an impact on the course of events, the laity developed literary - indeed, specifically dramatic - skills: in characterisation, in counter-factual narrative, and in striking verbal forms. Playwrights interested in experiments in form, particularly Shakespeare, gleefully seized on this novel expertise in their audience.
There are five strands to the investigation:
- All advice texts debated how far prayer should be set in advance or left to the inspiration of the moment. They worried that reading or reciting others’ prayers (or even just thinking up words for a prayer in advance) might try to limit the Holy Spirit’s promptings, making an idol of human words. Champions on both sides used a striking vocabulary: ‘inspiration’, ‘instinct’, and ‘quickening’ vs. ‘rules’, ‘moulds’, and ‘forms’. Simultaneously, secular literary theorists began to value fiction for its originality, rather than for the craft of imitating canonical works. The question is, how did developing conceptual frameworks of prayer and creativity converge, especially over how preparation yielded to improvisation?
- Developing skill in characterisation was needed to pray with feeling on behalf of someone else. Collections of prayers, for instance, encouraged kitchen maids to empathize with war heroes, or gentlemen with pregnant women, or merchants with coalminers. The situation of each was detailed in lengthy and concrete ways. Moreover, texts advised that the prayer be varied through four genres (praise, thank, confess, and request), and that the pray-er move between different addressees during the prayer (the pray-er, the person prayed for, the persons of the Trinity). Dense, searching, and psychologically-sophisticated prayers resulted, about people in desperate or extraordinary situations.The questions are, what was the artistry needed in putting up a prayer for another person? Conversely, did striking situations in the prayer collections make it onto stage?
- Radical narrative lines were followed up in prayer. Pray-ers referred to themselves as marginalised (sick, criminal, in chains), but at the same time as kitted out with the almighty weapons system of prayer. Prayer thus provided a counter-factual history, a thought experiment in alternative outcomes. In personal terms, prayer was a form of ethical and pragmatic life coaching, where the pray-er steeled himself to unpalatable actions. The questions are, what were the imaginative possibilities offered by focusing on ‘what ifs’? Reversing this, did staged prayer illuminate potential plot-lines and options open to a character?
- The soliloquy was the primary dramatic sub-genre of the period. Advice texts argued that God was present in the language of the prayer, making it a dialogue. Prayer started to fail if (or rather, when) it lapsed into a soliloquy, addressing God as a fictional projection, an idol. Moving tones of voice and gesture were recommended, to keep God in mind. Yet the pray-er was also advised to keep checking on the quality of his prayer. The questions are, did advice on alternating between acting and reviewing in prayer respond to the evolving technique of soliloquising? Can such advice suggest how a player might act this form? Or how a written form (prayer or player’s part) was spoken?
- Staging prayer raises fascinating methodological questions. Today, actors report that when a character speaks privately to the audience, or radically shifts his perspective, spectators may pay more attention, in a ‘hot dynamic’ - or they may start laughing or squirming. Both responses arise in watching characters pray, both in the acting audience on-stage and the real audience off-stage. The question is, was prayer on stage ever felt as real, and what might be the consequences? This is the most risky area to research, given the paucity of early modern evidence about audiences. I will test whether the theatrical language of advice on prayer can imply stage directions in prayers in plays, and illuminate why these are amongst the most textually unstable elements in editions and productions, then and now.
From 2018, I will be working on a fresh project: Metaphors at Work in Early Modern England. I am actively seeking to recruit MA and PhD students interested in exploring this area. I want to gather together a an inter-disciplinary and cross-career group to work on a history of working metaphors, and a contemporary study of how these metaphors facilitate or block progress. There is a large and unsatisfied demand for research by doctoral students into the impact of historical literature on contemporary life.
Cardiff University has two outstanding resources in this area. Early English Books Online has a digital copy of every book published between 1473 to 1700. Special Collections (SCOLAR) has collections of national significance in physical copies of early modern histories and prescriptive manuals on how to do something (especially leadership, education, horticulture, and manners). These have not yet been read through by any researcher, for marginalia and other signs of use. I would welcome expressions of interest, at any level, in this project.
The project will investigate how employees and employers manage working relations with each other, peers, customers, suppliers, and competitors, through specifically literary means.
- There are many studies about how workers using symbols are dramatized, in plays about lawyers, administrators, courtiers, and so on, and similarly about those providing personal services (hosts, waiting men and women, whores), though fewer into trades people dealing with physical items (from apothecaries to vintners). By contrast, there has been almost no investigation into how literary modes (specifically, the forms and content of genres and tropes, and characteristic official registers) create a working environment. In other words, research so far has mainly been into early modern representations of work, not representations by or in work.
- Yet modern management theory is convinced that business is a form of theatre. It points to a cast assembled to act in professional or vocational roles, from both outside and inside the organisation. It examines silos in which information, and managerial or employee attitudes to that information, is conveyed through metaphors or turns of speech. It separates functional and dysfunctional genres by which people try to make sense of their work, some seeing themselves as working heroically in an epic, others as malcontents in a revenge tragedy.
- Theatre companies themselves now sell management training, not merely in actorly skills such as ‘presence’ or ‘projection’, but also in acting out the emotional dynamics in with a logic of conflict: Richard Olivier’s training company Mythodrama, for instance, takes senior management teams from the FTSE 100 through situations in Shakespeare’s plays tapping ‘into the fundamentals of what it means to be a leader: inspiring others, wise decision-making and behaving with conviction and integrity’.
- This project has a political dimension, in bringing together historical and current business theory and sources materials produced by the occupations, under the aegis of the emerging field of theories of ‘vernacular’ or everyday creativity. Post-Romantic commentators, enchanted by official inspirers, have tended to ignore or denigrate such everyday creativity, and the faculty has been seized for an elite few. But, to cite Raymond Williams, ‘culture is ordinary’; as Michel de Certeau argues, even banal situations can exhibit a resistant, alternative micro-politics, in which individuals claim autonomy. My project will try to show how reconceiving of creativity as a quality of ordinary people – shown in the way they produce extraordinary things in common places - makes work more clearly and specifically creative. Literature is not ethically superior to prescriptive management theory, but it is often more methodologically productive.
Educated at Cardinal Newman Catholic Comprehensive School, Rhydyfelin, and Hertford College, University of Oxford.
First career in the City of London, with KPMG Peat Marwick McLintock, as senior charterted accountant and banking analyst, managing c.10 colleagues.
Second career in NGOs, as a Finance Director through V.S.O. for the Zambian Council for the Handicapped, managing c. 35 colleagues, and with Oxfam Head Office, as the senior overseas accountant for Mozambique (with additional field work in the Sudan, Zambia, and the DRC).
Third career in universities: Oxford, the Open University, Bangor, and here in Cardiff, teaching early modern literature and modern political drama.
Fourth career still a possibility!
Honours and awards
Fellow of the English Association, the Royal Historical Society, and the Higher Education Academy.
Committees and reviewing
- Society for Renaissance Studies Council Member (2012- conferences; 2015- fellowship and book prizes)
- JISC Historic Books Advisory Board (2012-)
- English Association Higher Education Committee (2010-)
- QAA English Subject Benchmark review team, Member (2014)
- Council for College and University English, Executive (2011-2014)
- AHRC Peer Review College (2005-2014)
- Senate (2014-)
- Court (2014-)
I currently teach the following modules:
- Leaders in Shakespeare
- Representations of Work in Early Modern Drama
- Modern British Political Drama
- Elizabethan Shakespeare
- Jacobean Shakespeare
- Talking to God in the Early Modern Period
- Texts in Time 1500-1800
Dissertations and theses (BA, MA, and PhD): my next project is on Metaphors at Work, and I am actively seeking students interested in exploring this area. The question is, how do literary techniques influence the working environment? Does, for instance, a firm employ the metaphors of the epic, in its accounts of heroic labour, or the revenge tragedy, in its employer/ee relationships? I want to gather together a an inter-disciplinary and cross-career group to work on a history of working metaphors, and a contemporary study of how these metaphors facilitate or block progress. There is a large and unsatisfied demand for research by doctoral students into the impact of historical literature on contemporary life. Cardiff University has two outstanding resources in this area. Early English Books Online has a digital copy of every book published between 1473 to 1700. Special Collections (SCOLAR) has collections of national significance in physical copies of early modern histories and prescriptive manuals on how to do something (especially leadership, education, horticulture, and manners). These have not yet been read through by any researcher, for marginalia and other signs of use. I would welcome expressions of interest, at any level, in this project.
Reviews of my books
Literature in the Public Service: Sublime Bureaucracy (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013). Shortlisted for Best Book of 2012 and 2013, European Society for the Study of English.
The Rhetoric of the Conscience in Donne, Herbert, and Vaughan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008). Reviewed as: ‘intelligent and entertaining’, ‘witty’, ‘keen sense for when the pursuit of piety veers into sardonic comedy’ (Review of English Studies 60.247); ‘extremely interesting, if stomach-churning’, ‘excellent close readings’, ‘subtle, interesting… valuable and welcome’ (MLR 104.3); ‘rich and stimulating, dense but readable’, ‘innovative, sustained, and illuminating rhetorical analyses [of] a vital subject in our intellectual history’ Rhetorica (28); ‘brilliant insights through unusual juxtaposition and deft assimilation’ (Seventeenth Century Journal 25.1); ‘expands our knowledge of theological and tropological connections in early modern devotional texts’, ‘surprising and valuable’ (Year’s Work in English Studies 89); ‘insightful... sharp… probing’ (George Herbert Journal 32.1); ‘engaging intellectual descant… lively energy… wit… conceptual daring’ (Modern Philology 110.2); ‘densely written… impressively compact… playfulness… adventurous wit’ (Notes and Queries 61.3)
The Rhetoric of Credit. Merchants in Early Modern Writing (Madison/London: Associated University Presses, 2002). Reviewed as: ‘incisive and learned’, ‘fascinating’, ‘an important book’ (Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies 4.2); ‘redresses deficienc[ies]’, ‘historically specific’, ‘disdains previous interpretations’, ‘drives home her point’ (The Historical Journal 49.4); ‘original and complex’, ‘unusually productive combination of professional skills’, ‘testing but welcome factual ballast to usual critical tendencies’ (Notes and Queries 3/2004); ‘succinct, informed… fresh’, ‘learned… and important’ (Renaissance Forum 7); ‘double expertise’, ‘fascinating’, ‘provocative and very important’ (Business History 46.1); ‘welcome corrective’, densely detailed’ (Review of English Studies 55); ‘palpable irritation [which]… is engaging, not off-putting, inspiring, not reactionary’ (Sixteenth-century Journal 34.3)
Dismembered Rhetoric. English Recusant Writing 1580‑1603 (Madison/London: Associated University Presses, 1995). Reviewed as: ‘timely… controversial… strong’, ‘intriguing and compelling’, ‘subtle, learned, and interesting’ (MLR 93.1); ‘fascinating’ (Shakespeare Quarterly ); ‘wonderful’, ‘should be received warmly and enthusiastically’, ‘densely argued’ , ‘rock solid and satisfying’ (Sixteenth-century Journal 27.2); ‘bring[s] sub-cultures into dialogue… interesting patterns’ (Studies in English Literature 36.1).
Authors at Work: the Creative Environment (English Association, Essays and Studies), intro, and co-ed. with Graeme Harper (Woodbridge: Boydell and Brewer, 2009) [I am the initiator and primary editor]. Reviewed as: ‘deliciously voyeuristic’ (Guardian 15/8/09); ‘rewards curiosity’ (TLS 26/6/09)
Writing and Fantasy , co‑ed. with Barbara White (London: Longman, 1999). Reviewed as: ‘theoretically sophisticated’, ‘sureness of touch’, ‘impresses’ (Gothic Studies ); ‘outstanding in its range and breadth’; ‘far-reaching and important… fresh and interesting’, ‘none of the usual archetype-hunting and no facile claims’ (Journal of the Fantastic)
- 2017 - £2,940 British Academy-Leverhulme Trust Small Research Grant
- 2016 - £40,190 Leverhulme Trust Research Fellowship
- 2008 - £58,664 AHRC Knowledge Transfer Catalyst
- 2008 - £4,176 British Academy small research grant
- 2007 - £5,143 English Subject Centre grant
- 2006 - £520,000 HEFCW Collaboration and Reconfiguration fund
- 2006 - £2,000 USA Folger Library Fellowship (USA)
- 2005 - £1,800 British Academy small research grant
- 2004 - £4,500 English Subject Centre grant
- 2004 - £2,200 British Academy block grant for ISHR participants (USA)
- 2003 - £13,000 Arts and Humanities Research Board study leave
- 2003 - £2,000 British Academy/Huntington Library fellowship (USA)
- 2003 - £450 British Academy small research grant
- 2000 - £10,000 Arts and Humanities Research Board study leave
- 1997-9 - £6,000 federal UW collaboration fund
- 1997 - £25,000 federal UW equipment fund
- 1997-9 - £1,000 Society for Renaissance Studies
- 1993-5 - £12,000 British Academy postgraduate award
In 2016 I will be taking up non-stipendiary visiting fellowships at CRASSH, University of Cambridge, and at St. Catherine’s College, University of Oxford. In 2017 I will be taking up a non-stipendiary visiting scholarshp at Corpus Christi College, University of Oxford.
Project application in preparation
Metaphors at work. How do literary techniques influence the working environment? Does, for instance, a firm employ the metaphors of the epic, in its accounts of heroic labour, or the revenge tragedy, in its employer/ee relationships? I am planning to bring together an inter-disciplinary and cross-career team to work on a history of working metaphors, and on a contemporary study of how these metaphors facilitate or block progress.