The spectre of the School of Night: former scholarly fictions and the stuff of academic fiction
Reid, Lindsay Ann
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Lindsay Ann Reid (2014) 'The Spectre of the School of Night: Former Scholarly Fictions and the Stuff of Academic Fiction''. Early Modern Literary Studies, (Special Issue 23).
This article re-examines the fortunes of the School of Night over the past century as it transitioned from a scholarly theory that enjoyed wide acceptance by early modernists to become almost exclusively the stuff of literature. As imaginative engagements with this supposed esoteric coterie (a group allegedly comprised of Marlowe, Ralegh, Hariot, Chapman, and other Elizabethan notables) in contemporary novels are frequently linked with fictionalisations of research activity and academic enquiry, this article first traces the contours of the School’s rise and fall in—as well as its spectral haunting of—real-life, twentieth-century scholarship before shifting focus to Alan Wall’s School of Night (2001), Louis Bayard’s The School of Night (2011) and Deborah Harkness’s Shadow of Night (2012). I argue that these three recent academic novels share far more than their near-identical titles, for in them, we find a consistent constellation of the supposed Elizabethan group with concerns of factuality, authority and legitimacy. Furthermore, in all of these novels, the payoff of bringing a fictive researcher into contact with the School of Night is ultimately the same: it provides a platform for reimagining of the nexus of historical and intertextual relationships surrounding Marlowe and Shakespeare.