Professor Lorna Hutson

Merton Professor of English Literature

Lorna works on the literature of the early modern period in England and is interested in the complex interrelations of literary form and other forms of cultural practice. She has focused for some years on the shared ground between poetics and forensic rhetoric—that is, on the ways in which literary texts invite readers and audiences to supplement the text, or mis-en-scène, with inferences and imaginings that make it seem 'true to life'. Questions of guilt and innocence stimulate our imaginations and our story-making capacities: legal rhetoric thus plays an unexpectedly important role in the truth-like effects of fiction.

From 2014-2017, Lorna held a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship for a project entitled Shakespeare’s Scotland, 1503-1616. In this project, she tries to bring together the distinct fields of early modern Scottish literature and early modern English literature, asking how poets in both polities responded to their distinctive and conflicting national histories in forging a poetry of contemporary nationhood. Legal fictions, chorographies and economic projects play their part in these national imaginings and the whole is not without its relevance in the present historical moment.

Lorna Hutson is a Fellow of the British Academy.


Lorna lectures on Renaissance English Literature, and on the special topic, 'Poetics of Evidence', and is a convenor of the MSt in English (1550-1700). She has supervised doctoral students on a range of topics, from 'Ben Jonson and Character' and 'Lawmaking violence on the Renaissance Stage' to 'Friendship's Shadows: Women's Ethical Friendship and Political Identity in the English Civil Wars'.


Lorna has written on Thomas Nashe (1989); on gender in sixteenth century English literature, The Usurer's Daughter: Male Friendship and Fictions of Women in Sixteenth Century England (1994); on drama and participatory justice in The Invention of Suspicion (2007), which won the Roland Bainton Prize for Literature in 2008. Circumstantial Shakespeare (2015) based on the Oxford Wells Shakespeare Lectures, 2012, explores the importance of Shakespeare's creation of an offstage, imaginary 'world of the play' by means of forensic rhetoric. Edited collections include Feminism and Renaissance Studies (1999) and, with Victoria Kahn, Rhetoric and Law in Early Modern Europe (2001). For the Cambridge Complete Works of Ben Jonson (2012), Lorna edited Jonson’s Discoveries (1641). The Oxford Handbook of English Law and Literature, 1500-1700, which contains 38 chapters by leading legal historians, literary scholars and historians, was published in 2017.