English Professor publishes Shadow and Substance with the University of Notre Dame Press

English Professor Jason Zysk's first book discusses how religion plays a role in Shakespeare’s work and early English drama.

By: Leesa Prescod

In October, Assistant Professor of English Jay Zysk published his first book, Shadow and Substance: Eucharistic Controversy and English Drama across the Reformation Divide. His book, which was published by the University of Notre Dame Press, discusses how both the Eucharistic controversy specifically, and how religious reformations in general, play a role in both medieval and early modern English drama.

“For the last 20 years, people have been really interested in talking about the connection between Shakespeare and religion,” Zysk said. “The field of Shakespeare studies has been invested, deeply, in this turn to religion, and it’s really generated my interest. So too has the connection between the drama of Shakespeare and his contemporaries and the dramas written before the rise of the commercial playhouse in the sixteenth century.”

A Shakespearean scholar

Before coming to UMass Dartmouth two years ago, Professor Zysk taught at the University of South Florida and the University of New Hampshire, and he published several journal articles and book chapters relating to Shakespeare and early English drama.

“I am a literary scholar who specializes in Shakespeare and early English drama, but I’m interested in questions of religion as they impact Shakespeare’s plays,” he said. “I think my book offers students and interested scholars an approach to thinking about English drama across medieval and early modern contexts.”

Zysk idea to create his book stems from previous research he did at Houghton Library at Harvard. He randomly happened upon a book titled Corpus Christi by the early modern writer Philip Mornai, and he was intrigued. He began reading the book, and the idea hit him.

Shadow and Substance looks at the influence of Eucharistic controversy on English drama written ‘across the Reformation divide’; it is not only a book about religion or the Eucharist,” Zysk said. “Rather, it shows how one set of discourses—writing about Christ’s body and the Eucharist—interacts with another set of discourses—dramatic texts written and performed from the thirteenth to the seventeenth century.”

Writing a book has its challenges

Writing his newly published book came with its fair share of challenges, such as isolation, creating a unique argument, or coming up with a way to structure the book. “The major obstacle I encountered was finding tactful ways to respond to existing scholarship on my topic and to differentiate my argument from it,” Zysk said. “But in the end, I found that reading widely on the subject and making efforts to keep my scholarship up to date within a rapidly changing field enabled me to focus and nuance my own arguments.”

Zysk also created some unforgettable memories on the path of creating his book. He traveled to Washington, DC, Ireland, and Britain for research. “My book was written on planes, trains, automobiles and even a boat,” he said. Zysk also worked on the book during a short-term research fellowship and a seminar on medieval drama, both conducted at the Folger Shakespeare Library.


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