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Thesis title: The Woman in the Moon: Shakespeare, Lyly, women and mental disorder
Start year: 2015
My research explores what representations of the moon by John Lyly and William Shakespeare can reveal about contemporary ideas of female identity and personhood. I look at how a pervasive undercurrent in literary criticism about these two authors casts the moon as indicative of a pejoratively disordered feminine mind. My research re-evaluates this, asking what the use of the moon by these writers can indicate about female resourcefulness, creativity, control over sexuality, and the fluidity of gender. I look at how in Early Modern theatre, the moon can suggest a model for character which puts flux at the centre of femininity, and which resists the rigidity of theoretical models for personhood such as Galenic humoral theory. The moon provides a focal point for looking across disciplines and my research involves the interception of: the moon within literary imagery studies; the moon metaphor in criticism of literature the 1580s and 1590s; the moon as a representation of Elizabeth I; and the moon within the narrative of 'the scientific revolution' in the history of science.
Ultimately, my research considers what residual elements of these playwrights' conceptions of the moon can be found in contemporary understandings of mental disorder. I ask, through a comparison of nineteenth and twentieth century criticism of the two playwrights, whether canonicity can shape and potentially distort these conceptions. My research explores how critical reception of both playwrights has incorporated moon and light metaphors in order to diminish Lyly’s works and style in comparison to Shakespeare's, and how this language of inferiority is focused on disease, infection, and mental instability. Focusing on the image of the moon as a tool both for these playwrights to define personhood, and for critics to arbitrate literary taste, my project is involved with how aesthetic evaluations of theatre and conceptions of mental normality are intertwined.
John Lyly, Shakespeare, Early Modern Drama, Mental Disorder, the Moon, Canonicity, Personhood, Character
Shakespeare and Early Modern drama, Shakespeare and contemporary culture, Elizabethan literature, Character in Early Modern Drama, Imagery in literary criticism, Medical humanities, History of science, Performance practice as research, Creative literary criticism
I have contributed to the organisation of a number of conferences, such as Britgrad (2014), Adapting Dickens (2013), Association of Adaptation Studies, Shakespeare, Sources and Adaptation, University of Cambridge (2011).