Sarah Waters

Sarah Waters



Thesis title: ‘Early Modern Melancholia and Present Day Depression: A Comparative Study of the Female Experience in Dramatic and Medical Sources

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Research topic

My PhD research considers the history and representation of the experience of female melancholia in the early modern period as seen through the lens of Shakespearean drama. It examines early modern proto-medical treatise and casebook writings on melancholy as well as more recent contemporary psychosocial studies and psychiatric material on the diagnosis and experience of depression for women today. In my research psychiatry, psychology, sociology, early modern treatises and drama coalesce and enter into dialogue. By adopting this interdisciplinary approach, I pose the question: to what extent do sources from the early modern speak to the present day? I investigate how far Shakespeare, John Fletcher and George Wilkins engage with proto-medical understandings of melancholia in their depictions of the female experience of melancholia on the stage. I consider how the articulated experience of female melancholia seen in King John, The Two Noble Kinsmen and Pericles sheds light on the less articulated experience of depressed women today in the way that these early modern female characters speak and the response they receive from their onstage audiences.

My thesis is a medical humanities project and my research seeks to look beyond the Hamlets who have come to characterise the experience of early modern melancholia. Instead I turn from the upper-class male experience to consider the diverse portraits of the female experience early modern drama offers. I also explore the early modern period as a time in which the female self emerges and consider to what extent melancholia plays a part in facilitating the development of female identity and agency.


Shakespeare, early modern drama, renaissance literature, adaptation, appropriation, psychiatry, psychology, sociology, medical humanities

General research interests

My research interests lie in the adaptation and appropriation of Shakespeare in performance and culture; Shakespeare and early modern drama; renaissance poetry; the influence of Shakespeare on contemporary literature; CS Lewis; the Inklings; and children’s literature.

Teaching experience

  • Associate Lecturer, undergraduate module Shakespeare (U67002), Oxford Brookes University (2018)
  • Specialist Lecturer, undergraduate module Shakespeare (U67002), Oxford Brookes University (2017)
  • English Literature and Language Tutor, Greene’s Tutorial College
  • English Tutor and Module Lead in English Literature, Oxford Summer Academy, St Edmund’s Hall, Oxford
  • English Tutor, Oxford Science Studies

I also regularly give guest lectures in Oxford and further afield on Oxford writers such as C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, the Inklings more widely, Philip Pullman, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Colin Dexter as well as public engagement talks on topics from Narnia, through Shakespeare to Ibsen, nineteenth century drama and beyond for students from primary school pupils to undergraduates and academics.


Journal articles

  • ‘Democratising Research and Sharing Knowledge’, Academics in the Classroom: English Outreach, Issues in English, 12 (2017)

Conference papers

  • ‘C. S. Lewis’ Science Fiction and Re-readings of Shakespeare’, Shakespeare and Science Fiction Conference, Anglia Ruskin University Centre for Science Fiction and Fantasy, Cambridge, April 2018
  • A Right Royal Grief: Exploring the Power of Constance’s Mourning in King John, Complaints and Grievances 1500–1750, Early Modern Studies Conference, University of Reading, July 2017
  • Porous Plurality and Chaste Singularity: The Power of the Passions in Shakespeare and Wilkins’ Pericles, Powerful Emotions/Emotions and Power c.400–1850, ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions and University of York Conference, June 2017
  • ‘Melancholia and Depression: Unspeakable Otherness and Emerging Identities.’ Talk for Humanities and Social Sciences Faculty, Oxford Brookes University, June 2017.
  • Richard III: The Unappointed King of Narnia. Paper presented at The 19th Annual International British Graduate Shakespeare Conference, The Shakespeare Institute, June 2017
  • In Out, In Out, Shake it all About: Melancholia and Anti-Melancholia in Pericles, Paper presented at Spring Symposium, Oxford Brookes University, May 2017
  • Undergoing a Sea Change: Resurrection, Transformation, and Revelation in the Waters of Pericles. Paper presented at Women at Sea Symposium, National Waterfront Museum, Swansea University, July 2016.
  • Transformed by Shakespeare: Theatrical and Literal Transformation in Narnia. Paper presented at The 18th Annual International British Graduate Shakespeare Conference, The Shakespeare Institute, June 2016.
  • PhD Panel on Shakespeare and Melancholia, alongside colleagues Hester Bradley and Dr Katharine Craik we each spoke and discussed our current research projects and the links between them. I discussed the relationship between class and melancholia as depicted in Two Noble Kinsmen. This research seminar was part of the Oxford Brookes University English and Modern Languages Research Seminar Series, April 2016.
  • ‘Rescuing the Jailer’s Daughter from Ophelia’s Shadow: The Two Noble Kinsmen and Melancholic Daughters’ Paper presented at Winter Symposium, Oxford Brookes University, December 2015.
  • A Bloody Mess: Women, Violence, and Passions on the Early Modern Stage. Paper presented at Bloody Passions: Extreme Emotion in Early Modern Literature and Culture, The University of Portsmouth, October 2015.
  • Melancholia Past and Present. Paper presented at the Postgraduate Medical Humanities Conference, The University of Exeter, July 2015.
  • Hamlet is Everywhere, Even in Narnia. Paper presented at the 17th Annual International British Graduate Shakespeare Conference, The Shakespeare Institute, June 2015.
  • ‘I’ve got the power!’: Voice, Voicelessness, and Expressions of Power and Identity. Paper presented at Power and Identity: An Interdisciplinary Workshop, The University of Birmingham, March 2015.
  • Sailing through Shakespeare to Aslan’s Country: The Tempest and The Voyage of the ‘Dawn Treader’. Paper presented at the 16th Annual International British Graduate Shakespeare Conference, The Shakespeare Institute, June 2014.
  • Associate Editor for Foolery Column and Book Reviewer for The Shakespeare Standard website (2014–2016).

Academic and professional training

  • Associate Lecturer Teaching in Higher Education Qualification, Distinction (2017)
  • MA in English Literature by Research, University of Buckingham, Distinction (2014)
  • BA (First Class Hons) in English Literature with French, University of Buckingham (2011–2013)

Scholarships and prizes

  • PhD 150-Year University Research Studentship in faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences (2015–2017)
  • Davis/Drew Prize 2015 for an Outstanding Research Thesis in the area of English Literature, awarded by Professor John Drew and Dr Paul E.H. Davis at the University of Buckingham (2015)
  • Paul E.H. Davis English Literature by Research Scholarship in support of MA research project (2014)

Other experience and professional activities

  • Postgraduate Representative on the Faculty Research Degrees Sub-Committee (2015–2017)
  • Postgraduate Representative for the English and Modern Foreign Languages Department (2016–2017)
  • Co-convenor of English and Modern Foreign Languages Department Research Seminar Series (2015–2017)
  • Instigated and co-organised the first English and Modern Languages Undergraduate Symposium at Oxford Brookes University (February 2017)