Sarah-Gray Lesley

Sarah Gray Lesley profile photo
Cohort Year: 2018
Research Interests: Early Modern British Literature; Critical Race Studies; Gender and Sexuality Studies; History of Reproductive Labor; Food Studies


My dissertation contributes to the growing field of critical whiteness studies by arguing that the cultural construction we know as white womanhood emerged, in part, through representational strategies developed in early modern English literature. My project reads texts such as Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene, William Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, and Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko alongside histories of England’s increasing involvement in the transatlantic slave trade, global capitalism, and colonialism. My project shows how these socio-economic shifts gave rise to the nascent racial logic of white femininity through tropes about sexual reproduction and commodity consumption. My article on Thomas Middleton’s Chaste Maid in Cheapside is drawn from my dissertation and is forthcoming with Renaissance Drama. 

In addition to my research, I have worked extensively with the digital humanities project, Beshrew Me!, led by Dr. Ellen MacKay. Beshrew Me! reimagines the early modern digital variorum through Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. I have also served as the graduate coordinator and lecturer for the University of Chicago’s study abroad program in London. I received the Dean’s Award for Graduate Student Teaching Excellence in 2022. 


“‘The Mother’s Mouth’: Markets, Birthing Rooms, and White Women in Thomas Middleton’s London, 1613,” Renaissance Drama 52.1. (Forthcoming, June 2024) 

Contributor to Seeing Race Before Race: Visual Culture and the Racial Matrix, eds. Noémie Ndiaye and Lia Markey (Tempe, AZ: ACMRS Press, 2023). Print and Open Access. 

  • Entry #30: “Oroonoko, or The Royal Slave (1688) by Aphra Behn” (247 words), 193-4.
  • Entry #31:  “Oroonoko: a tragedy (1696) by Thomas Southerne” (242 words), 194.

“The Epicure in Surinam: Lucretian Reception and Skepticism in Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko.” Restoration Studies in English Literary Culture, 1600-1700 43.2 (January 2020): 75-91.

Recent Courses

Fall 2022: Instructor of Record, The “Bad Moms” Renaissance 

Fall 2021: Instructor of Record, The Stage and the City: Performance and Daily Life in Renaissance London