Margaret Cavendish with Prof Margaret Oakes

Margaret Cavendish was an extraordinary figure – a refugee from her native Essex, become courtier, Duchess of Newcastle,  Natural Philosopher trading blows with the Royal Society, author and public celebrity. Professor Oakes talks to me about her life and why she is so important. You can also follow an extended series of her life by becoming a shedcaster, at Become a Member – The History of England.

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Professor Margaret Oakes

Margaret is a Professor of English at Furman University in Greenville, SC, specializing in early modern British poetry and drama and detective fiction of all kinds. She holds a B.A. in English and a J.D. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, an M.A. in English from Northwestern University, and a Ph.D. in English and Humanities from Stanford University. She has published on George Herbert, Francis Bacon, J.K. Rowling, Sara Paretsky, and Dorothy Sayers.

Why not look firther at her book on gender presentation in Shakespeare, To Gender or Not to Gender: Casting and Characters for 21st Century Shakespeare,  which will be published by McFarland Books in April, 2024? First discussing gender theory, including modern, individualistic identity, this book leads to deep shifts in thinking about sex, gender identity and expression, and sexuality seen in 21st century Shakespearean production casting, directing, and acting decisions.


10 thoughts on “Margaret Cavendish with Prof Margaret Oakes

  1. I didn’t know about Margaret Cavendish and her life. I’ll be listening to your shedcasts soon. Great interview with Professor Margaret Oakes.

    1. Thanks Megan. Margaret was a joy to interview. She’d actuallly given me the idea about Margaret in the first place – I also had never heard of her. I’ve been enjoying reading it up, and the times she lived in make a great backdrop.

  2. Excellent interview with Professor Oakes. I had read about Cavendish, but have not read her work.
    Anyone who hasn’t read A Room of One’s Own should really do so. It’s a very short and well written discussion of the conditions needed for women to write well (for a living). Saying that women need an independent income, and both physical and mental space in which to write without interruption, Woolf draws a short history from Shakespeare’s imaginary sister (who ran away to be a playwright and ended up dead), through Aphra Behn (horrors! Compromised morals!) and Margaret Cavendish (warped by isolation) to a modern day (in the 1920s-30s) and imaginary Mary Carmichael, who can write well because she is independent in every sense.

    1. Yes I must read it; i haven’t and both Margaret and Jane (my wife) pointed out that the context of what she was writing is critical – which actually is not very well stated in both the biographies I read which was interesting. Jane’s very interested in Woolf, and would I be right to suspect that she may be very much one of those observers very heavilyy influenced by her own outlook and prejudices? Though we all are I suppose, but she was writing opinion got the impression rather than academic research, if there’s a difference!

      1. With your wife and Woolf in the same sentence, I’m not quite sure whom you mean by “she”, but I’m guessing it’s Woolf. Woolf was famously uneducated (in terms of formal education) compared to her male relatives and friends, so she was never an academic. I think of her as rather like you, a public educator. Rather than running a podcast, she wrote book reviews and essays for newspapers, as well as regularly lecturing on literature to groups of working-class people. The essays, some starting life as lectures, were published under the title The Common Reader. A feminist rather stranded between the first wave (focused on getting the vote) and the second one (including reclaiming literary, social and historical foremothers), she was one of the first to foreground women in literature. Room of One’s Own should be seen in that context. She wrote some very fine – and innovative in form – novels along the way, and some of these engage with questions of influence and form as particularly pertaining to women writers/artists, rather than men. (As you can see, like your wife, I’m a big fan of Virginia Woolf.)

        1. Interesting I did not know that! I suppose I have always imagined Woolf t be a opretty formidable intellect, pretty exacting of standards, which I think was what I meant by academic

  3. Echoing the earlier comments, I found this a really interesting conversation about a thinker I knew woefully little about, and I look forward to the shedcast series. I wanted to praise your interviewing style too … makes me think it would be great if you could chat at some point with Peter Adamson, who’s been covering Elizabethan-era philosophers lately (he just released an episode on John Dee).

  4. Re: 1666. You missed the most important thing in that year (certainly in England, anyway). Granted, only one person knew it at the time. But if you’re taking science history…

    Sorry, minutiae to this discussion, but it’s fast approaching in narrative time.

    1. Are we talking Differential calculus here? If so I think there two problems to which I need to admit. The first is that Cavendish’s strenfgths are about her courage, range and ambition; she’s not a detailed and relentless gemnius like Newton, so her life just shines a a light on the whole thing from off stage. The second is my person and visceral feelings from my brush at school with the subject, the pain of which stays with me

      1. The overall Calculus, in fact, and all that Newton then did with it in applying it to physics. In his annus mirabilis, he cooked up the Calculus and basically did most of the stuff with mechanics and gravity that everyone associates with him.

        I’m being kind of petty to raise it (apart from the overall context of early natural philosophy making me think it was going to be mentioned when “1666” came up) since Cavendish* died before Newton was coaxed to share his discoveries. But it was, if anything was, probably what validated the Royal Society’s position, approach, and outlook and generally made science (as we now call it) seem like a winning bet. And while I’m not super find of Isaac, I have to give him that he did more with his year off due to plague than I did.

        * Footnote: a descendent (a few generations down) of one of her husband’s cousins (second-cousin?) would play a role in Newton’s legacy, interestingly.

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