Matthew Ritger

|Assistant Professor
Academic Appointments

Assistant Professor, Department of English and Creative Writing

I study English literature and culture of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. I am particularly interested in connections between literature and its wider world, especially moments when poetry and drama help to articulate alternative political ideas. I am currently working on a book about what writers such as William Shakespeare and John Milton had to say about England's houses of correction, which were some of the early modern period's most controversial prisons. 

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Sanborn, Room 014
HB 6032


  • Ph.D. Princeton University
  • M.A. Princeton University
  • M.F.A. Cornell University
  • B.A. Dartmouth College

Works In Progress

Book Project

Houses of Correction: Literature, Humanism, and Early Modern Carceral Institutions

Beginning in the 1550s, institutions called houses of correction opened a new era in English efforts to 'set the poor on work,' by introducing variable sentences of hard labor and work-training as punishment for minor crimes. Centuries in advance of the penitentiary, these new workhouses were quickly seen as cruel failures, and yet the ideas, arguments and stories they promoted about the means of reforming individuals and society have had long-lasting effects. By examining how writers including More, Shakespeare, and Milton engaged with these institutions and their ideas, Houses of Correction constructs a cultural and literary history of the humanist carceral institution in some of its earliest forms.

Houses of Correction tracks the development of these institutions over the course of roughly a single century, from the longer history of vagrancy statutes, to the establishment of Bridewell Hospital in the mid-sixteenth century, through the emergence of experimental workhouses once called ergastula literaria or "Literary worke-houses" in operation in London between 1640 and 1660. The book argues that these organizations were important contexts for negotiating the theory and practice of renaissance humanism in early modern England. At the same time, Houses of Correction introduces a more comprehensive understanding of the culture of correction in the English vernacular, as a series of interlinked habits whose terms and controversies became occasions for sharpening contrasts between the ethical potentials of some of humanism's core practices: from language learning and debate in utramque partem, to the collaborative function of readers' correction, to the critical imagination cultivated by early modern poetry, prose fiction, and drama.