Sarah Gray Lesley

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


I received my BA in English and and Music from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2018. My current dissertation project argues that early modern English literary writers arrived at a systemic category of white womanhood through depictions of reproduction and consumption in poetry, drama, and prose. In addition, I serve as a research assistant on the Beshrew Me! project. Led by Ellen Mackay, Beshrew Me! is a digital humanities endeavor to reimagine the early modern variorum edition through William Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew. In both my research and pedagogy, I am committed to bringing the urgency of the present to bear on the literary and historical past.

London Teaching

ENGL 23304: The Stage and the City: Performance and Daily Life in Renaissance London (London Study Abroad, Fall 2021) 

Between the years 1500 and 1660, London developed into an urban superpower. By 1660, London was boasting a population of 350,000, which was nearly six times its population in the early sixteenth century (~60,000). This course asks what it was like to live in London as it evolved into something equal parts new, exciting, and frightening. We will be considering this question primarily through three plays from the seventeenth century—Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist (1610), Thomas Middleton and Thomas Dekker’s The Roaring Girl (c. 1609), and Richard Brome’s The English Moor (1640). Each of these plays has been classified as a “city comedy” by scholars over the years, and “city comedies”, this course argues, are particularly good at detailing the perils, thrills, and novel sensoria of a rapidly expanding metropolis. We will use these plays as a testing ground to articulate for ourselves what central concerns or preoccupations sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Londoners had about their lives in the city. What was it like to go to an early iteration of a shopping mall? How were categories of disability, race, gender, and sexuality negotiated through this dense and (relatively!) diverse population? How did new city dwellers deal with things like plague or famine? What was it like to be constantly confronted with the noise of the crowd or sewage in the river and streets?