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Dr Kathryn Murphy

Dr Kathryn Murphy was an undergraduate at the University of Glasgow, where she studied Czech and English Literature.

After spending a year teaching and studying in Berlin, she came to Oxford in 2004, for a Masters in English Literature 1550-1780, at Balliol College.

She then wrote a doctoral thesis on Aristotle and seventeenth-century literature, and spent three years as a Junior Research Fellow at Jesus College. She joined Oriel as a Fellow & Tutor in English Literature in 2010.

Outreach and Schools

Dr Murphy is happy to speak to school pupils and teachers about studying English at Oxford. Any queries in this regard should be directed to the Outreach Officer.

Undergraduate Teaching

Dr Murphy teaches English Papers 1 (Shakespeare); 3 (1550-1660); 4 (1660-1760); 5 (1760-1830); 6 (The Literary Essay); and Classics and English Bridge Papers in Epic, Comedy, and Tragedy. She also lectures and teaches occasional classes on poetry of more recent periods. In recent years she has lectured for the faculty on science, nature, and genre in the seventeenth century, metaphysical poetry, the literary essay, early modern prose, and the poetry of Geoffrey Hill.


Dr Murphy has supervised graduate students on a wide range of topics: e.g. Geoffrey Hill; early modern science and fiction; Robert Burton and boredom; error in seventeenth-century prose and drama; polemical pamphlet literature of the 1590s; naming and categorization in Thomas Browne; Abraham Cowley; and Renaissance dust. She would be very happy to hear from any potential graduate students interested in pursuing research in any of her areas of specialism. 

Associated Courses

Classics and English

English Language and Literature

English and Modern Languages

Research Interests

Dr Murphy is a literary critic and scholar with interests in several areas: literature and philosophy in the seventeenth century; the genre of the essay, from Montaigne to the present; letters and alphabets, written, printed, engraved, baked, stitched, heard, and imagined; the production of images as ways of thinking or representing knowledge, especially in the early modern period, and even more especially in still life; and the relationship between poetic form, rhetorical figure, and theological and philosophical ideas. 

Dr Murphy is currently writing a book, entitled The Tottering Universal: Metaphysical Prose in the Seventeenth Century, which addresses the first of these areas. It examines the ways in which seventeenth-century writers responded to what I call ‘the anxiety of variety’ – the concern that the human intellect can never be adequate to the teeming, various, incorrigibly plural world – and how they developed a vernacular philosophical style from the generative tension between traditional Aristotelian styles of thinking, and new discourses of experience and experiment. There are chapters on John Florio and Michel de Montaigne, Lancelot Andrewes, Francis Bacon, Robert Burton, Thomas Browne, and John Milton. 

Dr Murphy is currently also involved in three editorial projects. In The Penguin Book of Early Modern Prose, she is hoping to bring to a wider audience the richness, complexity, and literary qualities of the non-fiction writing of the period 1509-1660. With Claire Preston of Queen Mary, University of London, she is editing Thomas Browne’s Urne-BuriallGarden of CyrusLetter to a Friend, and Christian Morals, for the Oxford Thomas Browne. A volume of essays on the literary essay from Montaigne to the present, entitled On the Essay, which she is editing with Thomas Karshan of the University of East Anglia, should be published in 2018. 

Dr Murphy also likes to write essays and reviews. She regularly reviews Czech literature for the TLS, and is a regular contributor, both as a reviewer and essayist, to Apollo: The International Art Magazine. Her most recent essays, on curtains and trompe-l’oeil, and on Dutch meal still lifes, can be read here: and here:

Her new project, which is in its very early stages, is a study of the aesthetic, visual, mystical, and metaphorical significance of alphabets in the period 1550-1780, provisionally entitled The Lettered World

Selected Publications


The Tottering Universal: Metaphysical Prose in the Seventeenth Century (forthcoming).

Thomas Browne, Urne-Buriall, Garden of CyrusChristian MoralsLetter to a Friend, with Claire Preston, for Oxford University Press (forthcoming).

The Penguin Book of Renaissance Prose (forthcoming 2018).

On the Essay, ed. with Thomas Karshan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, forthcoming 2018).

The Emergence of Impartiality, ed. with Anita Traninger (Leiden: Brill, 2013).

Conflicting Values of Inquiry: Ideologies of Epistemology in Early Modern Europe, ed. with Tamás Demeter and Claus Zittel (Leiden: Brill, 2013).

A Man Very Well Studyed: New Contexts for Thomas Browne, ed. with Richard Todd (Leiden: Brill, 2008).

Journal Articles

Fulke Greville’s Figures of Repetition’, Essays in Criticism 65/3 (2015), 250-73.

The Physician’s Religion and salus populi: The Manuscript Circulation and Print Publication of Thomas Browne’s Religio Medici’, Studies in Philology 111/4 (2014), 845-75.

Robert Burton and the Problems of Polymathy’, Renaissance Studies 28/2 (2014), 279-97.

Thomas Traherne, Thomas Hobbes, and the Rhetoric of Realism’, The Seventeenth Century 28/4 (2013), 419-39.

Jesuits and Philosophasters: Robert Burton’s Response to the Gunpowder Plot’, Journal of the Northern Renaissance 1 (2009).

Book Chapters

‘Fulke Greville’s Scantlings: Architecture and Measure in the Treatise Poems’, in Measure of the Mind: Fulke Greville and the Literary Culture of the English Renaissance, ed. Russ Leo, Katrin Röder, and Freya Sierhuis (Oxford: OUP). Forthcoming 2018 (7,500 words).

‘The Essay’, in The Oxford Handbook of English Prose, 1660-1714, ed. Nicholas McDowell and Henry Power (Oxford: OUP). Forthcoming 2018. (8,000 words).

‘Of Sticks and Stones: The Essay, Experience, and Experiment’, in Thomas Karshan and Kathryn Murphy, The Literary Essay (Oxford: OUP). Forthcoming 2018. (8,500 words).

‘The Ending End: Sir Philip Sidney’s Terms and Terminations’, in Oxford Philosophical Concepts: Teleology, ed. Jeffrey K. McDonough (Oxford: OUP) Forthcoming 2018. (3,500 words). 

‘No Things But In Thought: Thomas Traherne’s Poetic Realism’, in Thomas Traherne and Seventeenth-Century Thought, ed. Cassandra Gorman and Elizabeth S. Dodd (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2016), 48-68.

‘Michel de Montaigne, Robert Burton, and the Problem of Idiosyncrasy’, in Montaigne in Transit: Essays for Ian Maclean, ed. Neil Kenny, Richard Scholar, and Wes Williams (Oxford: Legenda, 2016), 223-38.

‘Geoffrey Hill and Confession’, in Geoffrey Hill: Essays on his Later Work, ed. John Lyon and Peter McDonald (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 127-42.

‘The Anxiety of Variety: Knowledge and Experience in Montaigne, Burton, and Bacon’, in Fictions of Knowledge: Fact, Evidence, Doubt, ed. Yota Batsaki, Subha Mukherji, and Jan-Melissa Schramm (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 110-30.

‘Geoffrey Hill’s Conversions’, in Geoffrey Hill and His Contexts, ed. Piers Pennington and Matthew Sperling (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2011), 61-80.

‘Introduction’ and ‘The Best Pillar of the Order of Sir Francis: Thomas Browne, Samuel Hartlib, and Communities of Learning’, in Murphy and Todd (eds), “A man very well studyed”: New Contexts for Thomas Browne (Leiden: Brill, 2008), 3-14 & 273-92.

‘A Likely Story: Plato’s Timaeus in the Garden of Cyrus’, in Reid Barbour and Claire Preston (eds.), Sir Thomas Browne: The World Proposed (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 242-57.

Selected Reviews, Essays, and Shorter Articles

A Slice of Life’, Apollo Magazine March 2017, 125-31 (on Dutch meal still life).

Review of Colour exhibition, Fitzwilliam, Cambridge, October 2016.

Drawing the Curtain’, Apollo Magazine March 2015 (on curtains and trompe l’oeil).

‘Thomas Browne’, ‘Robert Boyle’, ‘William Harvey’, in The Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Renaissance Literature, eds. Alan Stewart, Rebecca Lemon, Nicholas McDowell, and Jennifer Richards (Oxford: Blackwell, 2011).

‘In My Opinion, Having Read These Things’, review of Geoffrey Hill, Collected Critical Writings, in PN Review 191 36/3 (2010), 18-21.

‘A Man of Excellent Parts: The Manuscript Readers of Thomas Browne’s Religio Medici’, Commentary, TLS 5492 (4 July 2008), 14-15.