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Faculty and Staff

Dr. Gillian Knoll
Dr. Gillian Knoll
- Associate Professor & Literature Advisor

Introduction to Literature (ENG 200), Introduction to English Studies (ENG 299), Survey of British Literature I (ENG 381), Shakespeare (ENG 482/G), Gender & Sexual Fluidity in Early Modern English Literature (ENG 468/G), Introduction to Graduate Studies (ENG 520), Love & Desire in Shakespeare’s Drama (ENG 534)


Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Maryland, College Park, 2012.

M.A. in English Literature from the University of Maryland, College Park, 2003.

B.A. English Literature (with Honors) from the University of Michigan, 2001.

Research Interests:

Early modern literature; Shakespeare; Drama; Sexuality and gender; Literature and philosophy; Literary theory


I grew up in sunny south Florida and spent my childhood summers cooling off in northern Michigan, where I studied music and drama at Interlochen Center for the Arts. I wasn’t the best musician or actor (alas, my talents peaked at age 10), but performing in plays like Henry V and Hamlet alongside brilliant young artists at Interlochen was transformative for me. At rehearsals, and later in libraries and coffeeshops and classrooms, I came to believe that Shakespeare’s words had magical powers—they were alive! They made things happen on the stage, in the body, in the imagination. For most of my adult life, I’ve been trying to understand that magic—the “aliveness” of dramatic language—or, at least, to stay close to it. I began my study of English at the University of Michigan (B.A. English, 2001), and pursued my graduate work at the University of Maryland (Ph.D. English, 2012). I joined the English faculty at WKU in 2015.

My research in early modern English literature has grown out of a longstanding curiosity about how dramatic language represents inner life, especially inward erotic experiences like desire and fantasy. In my first book, Conceiving Desire in Lyly and Shakespeare: Metaphor, Cognition and Eros (Edinburgh UP, 2020), I argue that the erotic lives of John Lyly’s and William Shakespeare’s characters are shaped by metaphor. Drawing from research in cognitive linguistics, Conceiving Desire begins from the premise that the erotic imagination, and thought itself, is metaphorical. Each of the book’s three sections explores the philosophical underpinnings of a conceptual metaphor—motion, space, and creativity—and traces the contours it imparts to a character’s cognitive interior.

My current research on early modern sexuality has led me to join Joseph Gamble as co-editor of The Kinky Renaissance (ACMRS Press, Forthcoming 2024), a collection of innovative essays that explore questions of sexual history and look to modern-day kink culture for analytic entry points into early modern sexual proclivities, fantasies, habits, and communities. I am also working on a new book, Passive Voice: Erotic Submission on the Renaissance Stage, which situates experiences of sexual submission within ancient and early modern philosophical discourses of being and personhood. Passive Voice makes the case that submissiveness is, for some early modern characters, a way of being in the world, and as many modern-day kink communities attest, a marker of identity.

At WKU I am advisor for the English Literature concentration, and I teach a variety of courses on literature and English studies. Like my research, my teaching is shaped by the conviction that critical reading, writing, and thinking are acts of the imagination. In the classroom, I work to provide students with the tools, texts, and space to cultivate their imaginations and to support their own investigations of the “aliveness” of language.

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 Last Modified 4/24/18