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Dr. Robert Sawyer gets grant to finish book on Shakespeare and Marlowe

Dr. Robert Sawyer

JOHNSON CITY (Sept. 29) — Dr. Robert Sawyer, a faculty member in East Tennessee State University’s Department of Literature and Language within the College of Arts and Sciences, has been awarded an ETSU Research Development Committee (RDC) Major Grant of $9,000 to complete a book project titled “Marlowe and Shakespeare: The Critical Rivalry,” which will be published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2016.

The grant will allow Sawyer to finalize his research at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., and to present his work at a conference in Portugal, where he has also been asked to participate in a roundtable discussion at the world premiere of a Portuguese translation of “Richard III” at the National Theatre in Lisbon.

The latest award follows previous RDC small grants that initiated this work, including one in 2013 to enable him to study at the Shakespeare Institute Library and one in 2014 to allow him to present his research in Paris.

Sawyer’s book will examine the connection between the authors William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe, who have been compared starting in the 1590s through recent revisions in the post-9/11 era. Sawyer shows how the climate of post 9/11 conspiracy theories led to an outbreak of new versions of anti-Stratfordianism, which suggests Shakespeare did not write the plays, in books as well as in films such as “Anonymous.”

Sawyer notes, “Inquiries suggest that this film actually represents a kind of Shakespearean cousin of cult-like theorists called ‘truthers’ who still deny the facts of 9/11.”

Sawyer adds, “The book concludes with a brief look at the ways this nebulous infection of conspiracy has spread into other works, including graphic novels and cinema.”

Sawyer’s work has earned him increasing publication opportunities and awards. A section was published by the South Atlantic Review in August 2012, followed by another in December 2012. Critical Survey printed a section in 2010. Most recently, he has published essays in journals in the United Kingdom, in Alicante, Spain and a forthcoming publication in Florence, Italy.

One chapter of his book, “Recent Reckonings: Marlowe, Shakespeare and 21st-Century Terrorism,” was co-winner of the 2013 Hoffman Prize, an international competition with an award of nearly $7,000.

Sawyer has spoken about his work in Seattle, Atlanta and Boston, as well as overseas in Prague, Paris, Stratford and many cities in Spain, including Seville, Huelva and Baeza.

Sawyer has taught a course on Shakespeare and one on Marlowe at the graduate and undergraduate levels at ETSU for the last 12 years. He also teaches a special topics course on the connection between the playwrights.

“Now,” Sawyer says, “I have become interested in the 20-year period between 1920 and 1940, and I have partially completed a manuscript for a new book, ‘Shakespeare between the World Wars,’ which was contracted with Palgrave Macmillan Publishers and will be released in 2017.

“I find it important,” he concludes, “that my ongoing investigations prove that these two early modern playwrights remain significant in our post-modern world, speaking to our current historical context some 400 years after their deaths.” 

For further information, contact Sawyer at 423-439-6670 or

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