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.

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On Satire: What is satire?

Clare Bucknell and Colin Burrow, 10 April 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, 10 April 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, 10 April 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, 10 April 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, 10 April 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.

Medieval Beginnings: The Digby Mary Magdalene Play

Irina Dumitrescu and Mary Wellesley, 10 April 2024

4 November 2023 · 11mins

For sheer scale and spectacle, surely few plays of any period can match The Digby Play of Mary Magdalene. Boasting at least fifty speaking parts, with multiple locations, scaffolds and pyrotechnics, including an ascent into heaven, this wildly ambitious piece of late Medieval theatre mixes traditional hagiographic drama with magical adventure, romance and broad comedy.

Among the Ancients: Horace

Emily Wilson and Thomas Jones, 10 April 2024

14 October 2023 · 09mins

Emily and Tom follow Virgil with one of his contemporaries, Horace, whose poetry played an important political role in the early years of Augustan Rome and has had an enormous influence on subsequent European lyric verse.

Medieval Beginnings: Middle English Lyrics

Irina Dumitrescu and Mary Wellesley, 10 April 2024

4 October 2023 · 07mins

From the first recorded instance of the word ‘fart’ in English, to nuanced vignettes of sexual power dynamics, the numerous Middle English lyrics that have survived down the centuries, often scribbled in the margins of more ‘serious’ texts, offer a vivid snapshot of everyday medieval life.

The Long and Short: Ted Hughes’s ‘Gaudete’

Mark Ford and Seamus Perry, 10 April 2024

24 September 2023 · 12mins

Originally conceived as a film script, Gaudete is Ted Hughes’s apocalyptic vision of an English village in the throes of pagan forces. While it may be ‘the weirdest poem by a very weird poet’, as Mark puts it in this episode, Gaudete shines a light on many Hughesian preoccupations and paved the way for his best-selling collection, Birthday Letters. A strange fusion of Twin Peaks and Midsomer Murders, Gaudete is the former Poet Laureate at his most uninhibited and brilliant.

Among the Ancients: Virgil

Emily Wilson and Thomas Jones, 10 April 2024

14 September 2023 · 12mins

In the ninth episode of Among the Ancients, Emily and Tom arrive at Virgil, focusing on his 12-book epic the Aeneid, which describes the wanderings of the Trojan prince Aeneas after the fall of Troy. They discuss the political background to Virgil’s life, which saw the fall of the Roman Republic, and the complex, ambiguous space his poetry inhabits, blending the mythical and historical, the geographical and imaginary, while interrogating the costs of empire and triumph in his own time.

Medieval Beginnings: Troilus and Criseyde

Irina Dumitrescu and Mary Wellesley, 10 April 2024

4 September 2023 · 11mins

Chaucer’s 14th century tale of ‘double sorrow’, Troilus and Criseyde, set during the siege of Troy, is the subject of Irina and Mary’s ninth episode of Medieval Beginnings. Based largely on Boccaccio’s Il Filostrato, Chaucer’s novelistic long poem displays a psychological realism that would make Henry James envious, and, with the matchmaker-uncle Pandarus, introduces a character of startling and often perplexing opacity.

The Long and Short: James Joyce’s Dubliners

Mark Ford and Seamus Perry, 10 April 2024

24 August 2023 · 10mins

In their eighth episode, Mark and Seamus discuss the astonishing confidence of Joyce’s early work, which not only launched his literary career, but also initiated the grand project of his writing life.