William John Kennedy

Avalon Foundation Professor Emeritus in the Humanities


William J. Kennedy, Avalon Foundation Professor Emeritus in the Humanities, taught the history of European literature and literary criticism from antiquity to the early modern period. His publications focus on Italian, French, English, and German texts from Dante to Milton. Rhetorical Norms in Renaissance Literature (Yale University Press, 1978) studies interactions of genre, style, and mode in lyric, epic, and prose narrative. Jacopo Sannazaro and the Uses of Pastoral (University Press of New England, 1983), recipient of the MLA's Marraro Prize, traces the rise of modern pastoral from ancient models. Authorizing Petrarch (Cornell University Press, 1994) explores the canonizing imitations of that poet's work throughout Europe. The Site of Petrarchism: Early Modern National Sentiment in Italy, France, and England (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003) tracks the rise of national styles and political identities in Renaissance poetry. Petrarchism at Work: Contextual Economies in the Age of Shakespeare (Cornell University Press, 2016) examines issues of professionalism and its economic consequences in sixteenth-century European poetry. Kennedy has co-edited a rhetoric textbook, Writing in the Disciplines (Prentice-Hall, seventh ed. 2012), and has contributed over fifty articles on literature, rhetoric, and literary theory to various journals and critical collections. He has received fellowships from the Fulbright, Guggenheim, Rockefeller, and Liguria Foundations and has served as President of the Renaissance Society of America in 2008-10. He is currently working on a study of Shakespeare in global contexts.

Research Focus

The history of European literature and literary criticism from antiquity to the early modern period, with a special focus on Italian, French, English, and German texts from Dante to Milton. 




  • Rhetorical Norms in Renaissance Literature, Yale University Press, 1978.
  • Jacopo Sannazaro and the Uses of Pastoral, University Press of New England,1983; Howard R. Marraro MLA Prize 1982-84
  • Authorizing Petrarch, Cornell University Press, 1994.
  • The Site of Petrarchism: National Sentiment in Early Modern Italy, France, and England, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003
  • Petrarchism at Work: Contextual Economies in the Age of Shakespeare, Cornell University Press, 2016

In Progress:

Revisionary Shakespeare: A book-length study of eight Shakespearean plays and their global impact on eighteenth- to twenty-first-century fiction and drama in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas.

Edited Volumes:

  • Co-editor, Writing in the Disciplines, Prentice-Hall, 1986; revised editions: 1990, 1996, 2000, 2003, 2007, 2012.
  • Cosmopolitan Crossings, guest-edited for Annals of Scholarship: Art Practices and the Human Sciences in a Global Culture, vol. 14, no. 2 (March, 2002)
  • Transactions and Exchanges in the European Renaissance, guest-edited for Annals of Scholarship: Art Practices and the Human Sciences in a Global Culture, vol. 16 (March, 2005).

Representative Articles and Book Chapters Published in the Current Century:

  • "Petrarchism" and "Humanist Poetics" in The Cambridge History of Literary  Criticism, ed. Glyn Norton (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. P, 2000),  pp. 91-97, 119-26.
  • "Les autorités pétrarquistes et l'autorisation de Pétrarque" in Dynamique d'une expansion culturelle, ed. Pierre Blanc (Paris: Champion, 2001), pp. 53-62.
  • "Is That a Man in Her Dress? Cuckoldry and Transvestism in Renaissance Texts," in Opening the Borders, ed. Peter Herman (Newark: Univ. of Delaware P, 2000), pp. 27-53.
  • "Les totems pour la défense et quelques illustrations du tabou" in Sans Aultre guide: Etudes sur la Renaissance, ed. Raymond La Charité (Paris: Klinksieck, 2000), pp. 27-38.
  • "Framing the Authentic Petrarch," in Approaches to Teaching Shorter Elizabethan Poetry, ed. Anne Lake Prescott (New York: MLA, 2000), pp. 85-88.
  • "Spenser's Squire's Literary History," in Worldmaking Spenser, ed. Patrick Cheney (Lexington: Univ. of Kentucky P, 2000), pp. 45-62.
  • "Versions of a Career: Petrarch and His Commentators," in European Literary Careers, ed. Frederick de Armas (Toronto: Univ. of Toronto P, 2002), pp. 146-64.
  • “Citing Petrarch in Naples: The Politics of Commentary in Cariteo’s Endimione, “ Renaissance Quarterly 55 (2002): 1-26.
  • “Sidney’s Astrophil and Stella,” in Early Modern English Poetry: A Critical Companion, ed. Andrew Hadfield (New York: Oxford Univ. P, 2006), pp. 70-79
  • “Les langues des hommes sont pleine de tromperies: Shakespeare, French Poetry, and Alien Tongues,” in Textual Conversations in the Renaissance, ed. Zachary Lesser (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006), pp. 77-97.
  • “Petrarca come ‘Homo Economicus’: Prospettivi del Petrarchismo nel Ronsard e Shakespeare” (in Italian), in Un modello rinascimentale di poesia per l’Europa, a cura di Gian Mario Anselmi (Rome: Bulzoni, 2006), pp. 297-309.
  • “Shakespeare and the Development of English Poetry,” in The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare’s Poetry, ed. Patrick Cheney (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2007), pp. 14-33.
  • “The Economy of Invective: De sui ipsius et multorum ignorantia” in Petrarch: A Guide to the Complete Works, ed. Victoria Kirkham (U Chicago P, 2009), pp. 263-76.
  • “European Beginnings and Transmissions” in The Cambridge History of the Sonnet, ed. A.D. Cousins (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2011), pp. 14-31.
  • “Petrarchism” and “Neo-Latin Poetry,” The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, ed. Stephen Cushman and Roland Greene (Princeton: Princeton UP, 2012), pp. 791-93 and 1030-32.
  • “Ronsard: Passions and Privations of a Poet,” in Poésie italienne de la Renaissance, ed. Stefano Jossa, Italique (Université de Genève), 14 (2011): 59-74.
  • “European Petrarchism,” in The Cambridge Companion to Petrarch, ed. Albert Ascoli (Cambridge UP, 2015), pp. 210-20.
  • “Writing as a Pro: Gaspara Stampa and the Men in Her Rime,” Gaspara Stampa in the Canon of European Poetry, ed. Aileen Feng (Ashgate, 2015), pp. 137-54.
  • “Shakespeare and the Bible, Literature and Testaments,” in The Cambridge Companion to the Bible and Literature, ed. Calum Carmichael (Cambridge UP), in progress.
  • “New Economic Criticism,” in Blackwell Companion to Renaissance Literature, ed. Catherine Bates (Oxford: Blackwell P), in progress.
  • "Petrarchism in Early Modern England," in Early Modern English Poetics, ed Rémi Vuillemin (Manchester University Press), in progress.

In the news