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Anna SwärdhAssociate Professor (Docent)

About me

I received my PhD from Uppsala University in 2003, and have since taught at Uppsala, Kalmar, Örebro, and Karlstad before coming to Stockholm in 2020. I teach and supervise on all three cycles, mainly literature but also academic writing.

My research focuses on early modern literature and culture, and I am also interested in how texts from the early modern period have been received over time.

In my dissertation Rape and Religion in English Renaissance Literature (Uppsala University, 2003) I studied four literary texts against the background of religious controversies in the wake of the English Reformation: William Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus and The Rape of Lucrece (both 1594), Michael Drayton’s Matilda (1594), and Thomas Middleton’s The Ghost of Lucrece (1600). This was a richly rewarding as well as emotionally taxing project, as it brought me into the world of early modern religious persecution, torture, iconoclasm, and rape legislation, and allowing close interaction with literary texts by some of the most powerful writers of the age.

The following project, entitled “The Emulative Complaint: Imitation and Innovation in Late Elizabethan Complaint Poetry” (Swedish Research Council/ Vetenskapsrådet, ref. 421-2006-1612), focussed on formal and generic aspects of a group of narrative poems that include Shakespeare’s The Rape of Lucrece (1594). In this project, I was especially intrigued to see how the poets working within the genre influenced each other through competitive emulation, perhaps most readily reflected in their heroines’ bragging about their relative chastity. 

More recently, I have started exploring early-modern connections and exchanges between England and Sweden, mainly within the framework of the project “The Rhetoric of Patronage: Cultural Imprints of Helena, Marchioness of Northampton” (Swedish Research Council/ Vetenskapsrådet, ref. 2016-01521). The purpose of the project is to examine the highly rhetorical culture of the early modern English patronage system through cultural imprints left by the Swedish-born Helena, Marchioness of Northampton (born Elin Snakenborg; 1549–1635): travel writing, letters, portraits, architecture, and literary dedications all function as examples of rhetorical self-representation and manifestations of power within patronage. For instance, a letter from this time communicates relative social status through content and rhetorical style but also through its material dimensions (such as layout and handwriting).

I am Treasurer and board member of SWESSE, The Swedish Society for the Study of English, and Vice-President and board member of NAES, The Nordic Association of English Studies.


A selection from Stockholm University publication database

  • Utter confusion on every side? Helena Northampton’s Supplicatory Letter to the Earl of Sussex

    2021. Anna Swärdh. Rhetorica - A Journal of the History of Rhetoric 39 (1), 67-90


    This essay examines the supplicatory letter the Swedish- born Helena, marchioness of Northampton, addressed to Thomas Radcliffe, third earl of Sussex, in 1576 or 1577, hoping he would help her regain access to Elizabeth I. The essay situates the letter within the early modern patronage system and the court environment, but foremost within the field of early modern letter-writing in general, and the supplicatory letter in particular. The essay shows how a number of rhetorical strategies, designed to inspire pity and benevolence mainly through ethos and pathos, are employed to create positions for both supplicant and addressee. In this way, the letter reaches the desired goal of regaining royal presence. By looking at the letter through the frames of early modern letter-writing and more general rhetorical practise, the essay points to a tension between the letter’s stated sentiment of “utter confusion” and its highly formalised expression, indicative of the letter’s rhetorical situation and especially of the constraints related to its sender’s social status. The letter is transcribed in an appendix. 

    Read more about Utter confusion on every side? Helena Northampton’s Supplicatory Letter to the Earl of Sussex
  • James Bell's Narrative of Cecilia Vasa's Journey to England

    2021. Anna Swärdh. English literary renaissance 51 (1), 1-30


    This essay examines James Bell's narrative of the Swedish princess Cecilia Vasa's journey to England in 1564-1565 with focus on the representation of Elizabeth I and Cecilia. The essay argues that the narrative is best understood as a travelogue whose rhetorical function is that of an encomium, celebrating first of all Elizabeth, but also Cecilia and the two women's relationship. In doing this, the text partakes in contemporary constructions of Elizabeth as potent yet female ruler through its deployment of the so-called rhetoric of love and through its use of iconography that depicts Elizabeth as wise and legitimate ruler. By positing Cecilia as lover of Elizabeth, Bell extends the discourse of love to foreign royalty and a potential political ally; a special bond between the two is set up in ways that would have been accessible to contemporary readers more broadly but also through imagery that would have connected the two in ways open to a more select readership. While the relative status between Elizabeth and Cecilia is maintained throughout the travelogue, Bell celebrates the venture of the journey itself, and thus the meeting of the two women in a way that defines it as a diplomatic exchange with the specific purpose of furthering contact, dialogue, and goodwill between the two countries. [A.S.]

    Read more about James Bell's Narrative of Cecilia Vasa's Journey to England
  • Progression and Return in Västanå Theatre’s Retelling of the Edda (2019)

    2020. Anna Swärdh. Nordic Journal of English Studies 19 (4), 1-25


    In 2019, Västanå Theatre staged Jon Fosse’s Edda, a theatrical adaptation of myths from the Poetic Edda. This essay focuses on a number of formal devices used to adapt the Norse myths at Västanå, the dumb show convention perhaps offering the most stylized form of expression of these. The essay shows how the production helped the audience negotiate between a linear and a circular understanding of time, through formal and structural means: staging, selection and ordering of episodes signalled a strong initial focus on the inevitability of Ragnarök, while circularity and return were highlighted through the ending in which the world was reborn, but also through other features that stressed repetition and retelling. The essay argues that the dumb show convention could be taken as emblematic of the production’s negotiation between the two timelines, but it also shows how the device helped adapt female characters into more powerful agents, how it added hope in the form of young love, and how it functioned to draw attention to narration, words, and poetry. 

    Read more about Progression and Return in Västanå Theatre’s Retelling of the Edda (2019)

Show all publications by Anna Swärdh at Stockholm University