Elizabeth Fowler

Associate Professor

102 Dawson's Row

Office Hours: In person in Dawson’s 102 on Thursdays 2-4, as well as by zoom appointments via fowler@virginia.edu.
Class Schedule: T, Th 11-12:15 and 12:30-1:45 and Fridays 10-11.

Material Culture, Medieval, Poetry, Renaissance


Ph.D. Harvard
A.M. Harvard
A.B. Brown


Elizabeth Fowler is a literary scholar and an architect. Her Poetry and the Built Environment, A Theory of the Flesh of Art will appear from Oxford next spring; it argues that we can better describe poems (as well as architecture, sculpture, landscape, painting, and more) by focusing on how these objects invite us to use them and offer us ways to reshape the meanings of our sensory, emotional, and ideational experience. A sequel called The Traction of the Social follows; it explores further questions about how we use art to shape habitus. She is also working on the material culture of prayer, a project that compares devotional traditions in action around the world. She has an abiding interest in what people do with ritual language (especially poems) in real places; all her work concerns language as one among other cultural practices. Literary Character (Cornell, 2003) considers how fictional representations of the person draw upon those in law, philosophy, and economics. She is a General Editor of the Oxford Collected Works of Edmund Spenser (in progress). She works with undergraduate and graduate students in medieval and early modern literature; lyric and narrative poetry in English across time (especially Chaucer, the Pearl-poet, Spenser, Heaney); literature and architecture; the history of landscape; phenomenology and ordinary language philosophy; theories of spatiality, material culture, devotional poetics, book history, feminism, political thought.


  • Poetry and the Built Environment: A Theory of the Flesh of Art. Forthcoming from Oxford University Press, 2024.
  • Teaching with the Norton Anthology of English Literature: A Guide for Instructors, with Sondra Archimedes, Laura Runge, and Philip Schwyzer, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2011
  • Literary Character, Cornell University Press, 2003

Edited Works

Forthcoming Works

  • The Oxford Edition of the Collected Works of Edmund Spenser, General Editor (one of five); a five-volume critical edition, two classroom texts, and an electronic archive (Oxford University Press, in preparation) (Editor)


  • “Global Response: Consent in the Long View,” Studies in the Age of Chaucer 44 (2022): 361-62, ed. Fiona Somerset and Carissa Harris.
  • “The Duchess and the Cadaver: Doubling and Microarchitecture in Late Medieval Art” in Personification: Embodying Meaning and Emotion, ed. Bart Ramakers and Walter Melion (Brill, 2016), 575-600
  • “Acoustic Delay: Body Technique in the Hortus Conclusus” in Sound and Scent in the Garden, ed D. Fairchild Ruggles (Cambridge: Harvard-Dumbarton Oaks, 2016), 31-51
  • “The Proximity of the Virtual: A. C. Spearing’s Experientiality (or, Roaming with Palamon and Arcite)” in Readings in Medieval Textuality: A Celebratory Excursion for A. C. Spearing, ed. Cristina Cervone and D. Vance Smith (Suffolk: Boydell & Brewer, 2016), 15-30
  • “Art and Orientation,” New Literary History 44 no. 4 (Autumn 2013), 597-618
  • “Elegy” with Gordon Braden and “Personification” in The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, ed. Roland Greene (Princeton University Press, 2012), 397-99, 1025-27
  • A Vewe of the Presente State of Ireland (1596, 1633)” in The Oxford Handbook of Spenser Studies, ed. Richard McCabe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 314-32
  • “Towards a History of Performativity: Sacrament, Social Contract, and The Merchant of Venice” in Medieval Shakespeare, ed. Curtis Perry and John Watkins (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 68-77
  • “Return to the Word Hoard” in What Should I Read Next?, ed. Jessica Feldman and Robert Stilling (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2008), 190-92
  • "Shylock’s Virtual Injuries," Shakespeare Studies 34 (2006).
  • "Macbeth and the Rhetoric of Political Forms" in Shakespeare and Scotland, ed. Willy Maley and Andrew Murphy (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004).
  • "Chaucer and the Elizabethan Invention of the ‘Selfe’ " in Approaches to Teaching Shorter Elizabethan Poetry, ed. Patrick Cheney and Anne Lake Prescott (MLA, 2000).
  • "The Ship Adrift" in "The Tempest" and its Travels, ed. William H. Sherman and Peter Hulme (Reaktion Books, 2000).
  • "The Romance Hypothetical: Lordship and the Saracens in Sir Isumbras" in The Spirit of Medieval English Popular Romance, ed. Jane Gilbert and Ad Putter (Longman, 2000).
  • "The Empire and the Waif: Consent and Conflict of Laws in the Man of Law’s Tale" in Medieval Literature and Historical Inquiry, ed. David Aers (D. S. Brewer, 2000).
  • "The Rhetoric of Political Forms: Social Persons and the Criterion of Fit in Colonial Law, Macbeth, and The Irish Masqve at Covrt," in Form and Reform in Renaissance England: Essays in Honor of Barbara Kiefer Lewalski, ed. Amy Boesky and Mary Thomas Crane (University of Delaware Press, 2000).
  • "Chaucer’s Hard Cases" in Medieval Crime and Social Control, ed. Barbara A. Hanawalt and David Wallace (University of Minnesota Press, 1999).
  • "The Afterlife of the Civil Dead: Conquest in The Knight’s Tale" in Critical Essays on Geoffrey Chaucer, ed. Thomas C. Stillinger (G.K. Hall, 1998).
  • "Civil Death and the Maiden: Agency and the Conditions of Contract in Piers Plowman," Speculum (1995).
  • "The Failure of Moral Philosophy in the Work of Edmund Spenser," Representations (1995).
  • "Misogyny and Economic Person in Skelton, Langland, and Chaucer," Spenser Studies (1992); reprinted in Derek Pearsall, ed., From Chaucer to Spenser: A Critical Reader (Blackwell’s, 1999)
  • "Authenticity and Corporate Forms in the Imagination of Feminism," in Harvard Women’s Law Journal (1991).

Work in Other Media

  • “Nurseries of Body Techniques,” interviewed in three parts by Phyllis Odessey, Director of Horticulture, Randall’s Island Park Alliance, New York, at https://phyllisodessey.wordpress.com/tag/elizabeth-fowler/
  • “Living Literature: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” with Clare Kinney and A. C. Spearing, WTJU, Charlottesville, VA, October 2013
  • Invited guest, National Public Radio, “On Point With Tom Ashbrook,” on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, trans. Simon Armitage, 9 October 2007.
  • “Elizabeth Fowler Describes Spenser Project,” UVa Today Video, 14 December 2007.
  • Architect of a series of custom and spec residences in Massachusetts and Virginia, 1984-2006
  • The Hi Sheriffs of Blue, a collaboration with the painters George Condo and Mark Dagley and the sculptor Seth Weinhardt; reviewed by The New York Times, Village Voice, New Musical Express (UK); performances in New York at the Mudd Club, CBGBs, Max’s Kansas City, Tier 3. Electric bass guitar, keyboard, backing vocals.

______, NYC 1980, LP, vinyl and CD, Feeding Tube Records, Easthampton, MA, 2014

______, “Cold Chills, part 1 and 2,” Roller Skate Records, 1981, rpt. 2012

______, “Ain’t But Sweet 16,” “My Big Vacation,” 7”, Roller Skate Records, 1980, rpt. 2002

______, “Hi Sheriffs of Blue,” 12” compilation, Jimboco Records, 1982

______, “Cold Chills,” 7”, Tweet Records, 1981.


  • Visiting Faculty, The Paul Mellon Centre for British Studies, London, England, 1997.
  • Isabel MacCaffrey Prize, International Spenser Society, 1997.
  • Yale’s Poorvu Prize for Interdisciplinary Teaching (with Christy Anderson, History of Art), 1997.
  • Junior Fellow, The Society of Fellows, Harvard University, 1991–1993, 1994–1995.
  • American Council of Learned Societies International Travel Grant, 1994.
  • Whiting Fellow, 1990–1991.
  • Harvard’s Danforth Distinction in Teaching Prize, 1990.
  • Frances A. Yates Fellow, The Warburg Institute, University of London, 1989.
  • Fulbright Scholar, London, England, 1989–1990.