Close Readings

Our pioneering podcast subscription: two contributors explore an area of literature through a selection of key works, providing an introductory grounding like no other.

For full access, sign up in Apple Podcasts here, or in other podcast apps here.

Or follow this free version in Apple Podcasts, Spotify or other podcast apps.

Political Poems: W.H. Auden's 'Spain 1937'

Seamus Perry and Mark Ford, 1 March 2024

28 February 2024 · 42mins

In their second episode, Mark and Seamus look at W.H. Auden's ‘Spain’. Auden travelled to Spain in January 1937 to support the Republican efforts in the civil war, and composed the poem shortly after his return a few months later to raise money for Medical Aid for Spain. It became a rallying cry in the fight against fascism, but was also heavily criticised.

Among the Ancients II: Aesop

Emily Wilson and Thomas Jones, 1 March 2024

24 February 2024 · 10mins

Supposedly an enslaved man from sixth-century Samos, Aesop might not have ever really existed, but the fables attributed to him remain some of the most widely read examples of classical literature. Emily and Tom discuss how Aesop’s fables as we know them came to be, make sense of their moral contradictions and unpack some of the fables that are most opaque to modern readers.

Medieval LOLs: How to Swear in Latin

Irina Dumitrescu and Mary Wellesley, 1 March 2024

18 February 2024 · 34mins

All teachers know that the best way for students to learn a language is through swear words, and nobody knew this better than Aelfric Bata, a monk from Winchester whose Colloquies, compiled in around the year 1000, instructed pupils to swear in Latin with elaborate and vivid fluency.

Human Conditions: ‘The Second Sex’ by Simone de Beauvoir

Judith Butler and Adam Shatz, 1 March 2024

10 February 2024 · 11mins

Dazzling in its scope, The Second Sex incorporates anthropology, psychology, historiography, mythology and biology to ask an ‘impossible’ question: what is a woman? Judith Butler and Adam Shatz discuss the book’s startling relevancy for contemporary feminism, Beauvoir’s refusal to call herself a philosopher and the radical possibilities released by her claim that one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.

On Satire: John Donne's Satires

Clare Bucknell and Colin Burrow, 1 March 2024

4 February 2024 · 12mins

In the second episode of their series on satire, Colin and Clare look at the dense, digressive and often dangerous satires of John Donne and other poets of the 1590s. 

Among the Ancients II: Hesiod

Emily Wilson and Thomas Jones, 1 March 2024

24 January 2024 · 14mins

Emily and Tom return to the 8th century BCE to explore Homer’s near contemporary, Hesiod. In Works and Days, Hesiod weaves his curmudgeonly persona into a brilliantly comic narrative that encompasses everything from brotherly bickering to cosmic warfare.

Medieval LOLs: Chaucer’s ‘Miller’s Tale’

Irina Dumitrescu and Mary Wellesley, 1 March 2024

18 January 2024 · 30mins

Were the Middle Ages funny? Irina Dumitrescu and Mary Wellesley begin their series in quest of the medieval sense of humour with Chaucer’s 'Miller’s Tale', a story that is surely still (almost) as funny as when it was written six hundred years ago.

On Satire: What is satire?

Clare Bucknell and Colin Burrow, 1 March 2024

4 January 2024 · 11mins

Clare and Colin begin their twelve-part series on satire with the big question: what is satire? Where did it come from? Is it a genre, or more of a style, or an attitude? They then plunge into their first text, the Praise of Folly by Desiderius Erasmus, a prose satire from 1511 that lampoons pretty much the whole of sixteenth century life in the voice of Folly herself. 

The Long and Short: Elizabeth Bowen's short stories

Mark Ford and Seamus Perry, 1 March 2024

24 December 2023 · 11mins

In the final episode of The Long and Short, we turn to Elizabeth Bowen, widely considered one of the finest writers of the short story. Mark and Seamus unpack ‘the Bowen effect’ and her singularly haunting style: subtle social commentary cut through with humour, and occasionally outright romanticism. A culmination of the short fiction explored in this series, Bowen’s work proves that life ‘with the lid on’ can be just as exhilarating, moving and funny as any sensationalist story.

Among the Ancients: Seneca

Emily Wilson and Thomas Jones, 1 March 2024

14 December 2023 · 11mins

For the final episode in Among the Ancients, Emily and Tom look at Seneca, whose life is relatively well known to us. For a long time, Seneca the Philosopher was often assumed to be a different person from Seneca the Tragedian, as they seemed such different writers. As a philosopher, he is the main source of what we know about Roman Stoicism, which prioritises virtue and the dispelling of false beliefs. Seneca's dramas, however, are full of extreme emotion and violence.

Medieval Beginnings: The Travels of Sir John Mandeville

Irina Dumitrescu and Mary Wellesley, 1 March 2024

4 December 2023 · 07mins

For the final episode of Medieval Beginnings, Mary and Irina look at by far the most popular text (in its time) of all that have featured in the series: The Travels of Sir John Mandeville. The fictional traveller’s fantastical descriptions of different places, peoples and animals across the Holy Land and Asia are almost certainly drawn mainly from other textual sources, rather than direct experience by the unknown author, and yet the work was often used as a source of reference as well as entertainment or prurient interest.

Among the Ancients: Ovid

Emily Wilson and Thomas Jones, 1 March 2024

14 November 2023 · 11mins

Ovid was perhaps the most prolific poet of Ancient Rome, certainly in the amount of his poetry which has survived (around 30,000 lines). This episode focuses on his 15-book epic, the Metamorphoses, a patchwork of hundreds of stories of transformation, including numerous retellings of famous myths from Apollo and Daphne to the Trojan War.