Penelope Meyers Usher

Penelope Meyers Usher

Lecturer in First-Year Writing and First-Year Writing Workshop


English, First Year Foundation


239 LeFrak Center


Penelope Meyers Usher works on early modern English literature (particularly drama), with a focus on representations of the body. Her current project analyzes how Shakespeare and other early modern dramatists explored the un-knowable nature of the body in their tragedies (via bodily paradoxes, such as Banquo’s “bloody” ghost), in opposition to contemporary anatomical discourses of “knowing” the body. Her other scholarly interests include: classical literature (particularly Greek tragedy); French literature; violence; medical history; sexuality; and ecocriticism. In addition to these scholarly interests, she also has a background and strong investment in writing pedagogy. She has an M.A. and Ph.D. in English from New York University. She is also a Barnard alumna with a B.A. in Comparative Literature. Her work has been published in Postmedieval; the Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (JMEMS); Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England (MaRDiE); and in the edited volume Rethinking Shakespeare Source Study (Routledge, 2018).

Ph.D., English, New York University

M.A., English, New York University

B.A., Comparative Literature (French and English), Barnard College

“‘The Carcasse Speakes’: Vital Corpses and Prophetic Remains in Thomas May’s Antigone,” Postmedieval 10:1 (2019): 82-94.

“Greek Sacrifice in Shakespeare's Rome: Titus Andronicus and Iphigenia in Aulis,” in Rethinking Shakespearean Source Study: Audiences, Authors, and Digital Technologies, ed. Dennis Britton and Melissa Walter (New York and London: Routledge, 2018), pp. 206–224. 

"'I Do Understand Your Inside': The Animal Beneath the Skin in Webster's Duchess of Malfi," Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England 30 (2017): 105-125. 

“Pricking in Virgil: Early Modern Prophetic Phronesis and the Sortes Virgilianae,” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 45:3 (2015): 557–571.

I see my First-Year Writing Workshop class as an opportunity to help students find and craft their voice. In my class, students will embrace their talents as smart and spunky thinkers who know how to create, orchestrate, and enter into a critical conversation. We do this in large part by interrogating the small details of the texts, images, and ideas that we encounter in order to realize the importance of each word, and the impact of choosing certain words over others. Being aware of the power of words and making interpretative choices allows students to assert their own voice and to express themselves in convincing and compelling ways. I strongly believe that being able to analyze, break down, and engage with words (in literary texts, in the media, and in the world more generally) provides power and agency. Being able to wield and craft words, in turn, is a powerful tool to act, to achieve, and to make change. My goal is that every student will leave the class recognizing their abilities and owning their identities as strong, bold, Barnard writers and thinkers.


Writing is a challenging process, and thus, in my class, I encourage students to “let it all hang out”—to get messy, to try out ideas, to ask questions, to experiment, and to make mistakes. Because writing is a process, and because thinking and working through ideas requires free-writing, and drafting, and revising (and revising again, and again), we do a lot of writing. Writing is, undeniably, hard work—but it is also incredibly rewarding work. I encourage my students to persevere, to embrace the challenges, and to enjoy the process.


The theme of my Fall 2019 section—“Legacy of the Mediterranean: Women and Violence”—is informed by my background in Classics and Comparative literature (which I first studied at Barnard!) as well as my current scholarship on bodies and violence. Following a handful of female characters (Dido, Medea, Penelope, and others) through different texts and adaptations, we will discuss violence to women and violence by women. These discussions will provide opportunities to reflect, through a different lens, on the power of writing and voice. In particular, we will examine how female characters work to shape their legacies by writing and re-writing their own stories, as do authors and translators who identify with, co-opt, or otherwise join their own voices to these characters. As such, we will think through the agency of female characters and voices in literary texts as well as our own power, as writers, to participate in analyzing, theorizing—and thereby shaping—their legacies.