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  • Jane Wessel
    University of Delaware
    Department of English
    Newark, DE 19716


    Jane Wessel specializes in 18th-century British literature, performance and media studies, and the history of intellectual property. She is currently completing her dissertation, “Owning Performance: Literary Property and Embodied Authorship on the 18th-century Stage,” which recovers an alternate history of proprietary authorship by focusing on a group of authors whose ability to own their work was actually undermined by England’s first copyright act: dramatists. While novelists and poets could own the print publication of their work, dramatists would not be able to control or profit from the repeat performance of their plays until 1833. This project argues that by protecting one medium that dramatists worked in (print), but not the other (performance), the Copyright Act pushed dramatists away from print. While Early Modern and Restoration dramatists, from Ben Jonson to John Dryden and Aphra Behn, had used print to assert their authorial singularity, 18th-century playwrights, and especially actor-playwrights like Charles Macklin, David Garrick, and Samuel Foote, radically altered their authorial strategies, instead using their own bodies and physical presence as a way to control their work. Celebrating the affordances of the medium, these actor-playwrights created intentionally-ephemeral and unfixed works, using mimicry, improvisation, and corporal humor to ensure that, in the absence of legal protection, they would continue to control and profit from the re-performance of their plays. Jane's research has been supported by fellowships and grants from the Lewis Walpole Library, Folger Shakespeare Library, and American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies.

    Jane's teaching interests include 17th- through early 19th-century British literature and culture, drama, satire, Shakespeare, and literature and gender. At the University of Delaware, she has taught British Literature from 1660 to the Present, Introduction to Drama, and an Approaches to Literature for Non-Majors course focused on the character type of the rake and its gendered inversions. She has also taught courses within UD's Writing Program, including first-year composition, Written Communications in Business, and honors composition courses on satire, post-9/11 literature, and the ways that literature narrates history. She is currently teaching “Making Shakespeare” (an honors colloquium on Shakespeare in the 18th century) and a first-year writing course called “Who owns that? Authorship, Ownership, and Intellectual Property.”



  • M.A., English, University of Delaware, 2011
  • B.A., English, SUNY Binghamton, 2009

Research Projects 

  • Innovative Course Design Award
    Wessel, Jane
    In collaboration with Matthew Kinservik
    Jane Wessel, doctoral student in English, and Matthew Kinservik, vice provost for faculty affairs, have won a prestigious national award for innovative course design from the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies. The Honors colloquium entitled "Making Shakespeare" engages students in tracing the many paths that brought Shakespeare to prominence in the English literary tradition. "We start the class with what the students think they know about studying Shakespeare through literary analysis, but then we move beyond discussing a play itself into discussing how Shakespeare became the writer we know today," Wessel said. "I think what makes this course so interesting is that, through a series of multimedia projects, the students become part of the cultural process of determining what matters about Shakespeare's legacy." The society's selection committee called the course's approach "imaginative and energetic" and said it "demonstrates the highest level of teaching excellence by engaging students with an impressive range of challenging materials."


  • Possessing Parts and Owning Plays: Charles Macklin and the Prehistory of Dramatic Literary Property.; Vol. 56.3; pp 268-290
    Wessel, Jane
  • Performing ‘A Ra-ree Show’: Political Spectacle and the Treason Trial of Stephen College.; Vol. 38.1; pp 3-17
    Wessel, Jane
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