Article by Ceola Daly (Laidlaw Scholars 2020, TSM English and Drama)
This past summer I did an infield application of research that had me working with Dr. Miranda Fay Thomas as a Research Assistant. My time working with Dr. Thomas had two objectives; the first was to assist on their editing of an edition of a play called The Taming of A Shrew, sometimes considered to have Shakespearean authorship, and the second was to create an educational resource aimed at secondary school students. Both of these objectives taught me a lot about not just how I work as a leader, but how I work with others in general.
When working with Dr. Thomas, I was to do the research they assigned (books, articles, etc) as well as independent research I found relevant to the topic. At the end of the week I would send them on a document with a summary of relevant findings and discuss with them how this would alter the editing process. Because we were working with editing an old text, Dr. Thomas and myself discussed the nature and ethics of editing; we were now creating the text that students and scholars alike would use and quote from. Furthermore, A Shrew features problematic themes like violence against women, domestic abuse, and gaslighting – how were we to present this text to students? Although it may seem small, the responsibility of choosing what to cut and footnote in a play that features on educational syllabuses was not lost on us, and it made me realise the importance of addressing problematic messages in media whenever they appear. While blatant misogyny or racism is often obvious, a lot of the patriarchal structures in place operate implicitly everyday, especially in the literary and cultural canons that fill our schools and homes. If these implicit forms of oppressions are not recognised from a young age, they become harder to recognise when we grow older. It was our job as the editors to identify the problematic elements of these texts.
As someone who wants to go into Early Modern academia it can sometimes be difficult to picture how ‘leadership’ fits into it. Why can’t I just read my plays and poems and be done with it? However, the conversations I had with Dr. Thomas have completely changed my perspective. Leadership isn’t always rousing speeches and leading huge teams of people, sometimes it can be having the power to identify and condemn oppressive societal structures. Furthermore, in such an old and male-dominated field, this can be a scary thing to want to do. Fears of ‘Political Correctness’ gone too far has created a divide in academic fields that sees progressive changes as insulting instead of necessary.
With this in mind, I worked on a set of infographics aimed at secondary school students that would show the importance of recognising gendered frameworks. Once drafted, I reached out to multiple different organisations that worked in Shakespeare, education, theatre, or a mix of the three. Unfortunately, I either didn’t hear back or was given rejections.
It was difficult to accept that what I had thought so important over the summer was difficult to get out into the public, but after talking with other Laidlaw scholars about their projects I realised that I do not have to measure my success within a given timeline. I reached out to DU Players and talked about my research and they offered me a part in their Theatre History festival later this term where I can talk about the importance of identifying implicit oppression in Early Modern texts. It is exciting and gratifying to know that what you think is important is worth pushing and fighting for, even if it took you a while to get there.