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Hester Bradley is from Leicester. She joined Oxford Brookes in September 2015 and her thesis title is ‘The Woman in the Moon in John Lyly and William Shakespeare’.
I heard about Oxford Brookes University and my current supervisor through my MA supervisor at the University of Birmingham, Professor Ewan Fernie.
I initially applied to a particular PhD Studentship at Oxford Brookes University in early modern melancholia and present day depression after my MA supervisor recommended it to me. Unfortunately, due to a technicality my application couldn’t be progressed. Having written to Dr Katharine Craik who was supervising this Studentship, I decided that I wanted to work with her and around this topic. I modified my application to suit me and I applied for an alternative Studentship in the English department which I was lucky enough to be awarded.
In 2014, I completed an MA in Shakespeare and Creativity at the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon; a satellite campus of the University of Birmingham. Before I was at Oxford Brookes, I was working in the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust bookshop and researching at the Institute library.
It took me a while to settle into the research environment, as when I first arrived in Oxford, I was new to the city and didn’t know anyone at the University. The opening of the graduate student office was a great help. It has been really useful in helping me to develop a routine and work with my peers around me. It’s a good place to get support with work and sometimes a welcome distraction from it. The departmental training, symposiums, and seminars have also been good places to meet up with other research students and they give me both a break from and inspiration for my own work. I’ve enjoyed other initiatives at Brookes such as the poetry centre and the focus on diversity.
My project is on the moon as a character in early modern drama and, in particular, within the plays of John Lyly and William Shakespeare.
What I term the moon-character is a surprisingly popular representation of the moon as a character on the early modern stage, who is usually female, through a classical analogue such as Diana, Phebe/Phoebe, or Cynthia (Roman names for Artemis, principally associated with chastity); Luna (the Latin word and Roman personification of the moon, associated with its inconstancy); Hecate and Proserpina (names for the underworld components of the Roman triumvirate moon goddess); and Titania (another name for Diana in Ovid’s Metamorphoses). These different titles invoke different associations but characters with these names in drama often exhibit a transitionality between one another. This transitionality is involved with the commonality of the physical moon, the extra-terrestrial rock, which acts as a bridge between the seemingly contradictory aspects of the goddesses.
I focus on this character in the plays of Lyly and Shakespeare, looking comparatively and chronologically at the way the representation of this character changes between the two playwrights. In doing so, I have discovered Shakespeare’s continuing use of Lyly’s drama as a source for his own presentation of this mode of character. His use of the moon as character is often in dialogue with the precedent set by Lyly. The plays I discuss in detail are Lyly’s Galatea (c1584), Endymion: The Man in the Moon (c1585-88) and The Woman in the Moon (c1588-90), and Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (c1595) and As You Like It (c1603). I then look at the moon-character within two of Shakespeare’s later collaborative works: Pericles:Prince of Tyre (with George Wilkins, c1607-8) and The Two Noble Kinsmen (with John Fletcher, c1614-15).
I do not attempt to offer a definitive explanation of the moon-character, but I look at the degree to which moon-characters denote an impulse to singularity which offers a form of individual identity on the stage. I have found that this impulse to singularity involves an evasion or elision of the traditional static categories of sexuality and gender and the moon-character is often rendered as either lunatic or utopian (or both of these things, as in Lyly’s The Woman in the Moon, c1590). The moon-character is a site through which the rigid early modern binaries of inconstancy/chastity and lunatic/utopian are questioned and sometimes even dismantled.
The best thing about being a research student is having all this time to dedicate to forming my own project. I’m so grateful that I have a chance to spend three years learning and writing about something that I’m really interested in.
This is also the worst thing. I’ve found it difficult to work out a stable structure for my time, and working on something intensely by myself can be isolating. Sometimes, I’m in the thick of my research, buzzing with ideas, and at other times, I feel like I can’t seem to get anything down on the page. I’ve found that spending so much time alone and needing to self-motivate has the potential to be difficult on my mental and emotional health.
I think it’s really important to acknowledge how difficult undertaking solo academic research can be. Looking outwards at the difficult environment of academia, rather than directing these criticisms inwardly at myself, has helped me to combat imposter syndrome and to encourage me to keep reading, writing, and taking breaks when I need them. Rather than fostering an environment in which being incredibly stressed is the norm and even something to be celebrated, it’s been useful for me to periodically remind myself that my health, personal values, financial stability, social life, and enjoyment are more important. Life shouldn’t go on hold just because you are doing a PhD and suffering shouldn’t be normalised.
Finance is another big problem for postgraduate life, especially living in Oxford where rental prices are very high and where you can find yourself with exploitative property owners. I’m lucky to have funding and very privileged to have a financial safety net for when this isn’t enough, but even so, it has been difficult to make ends meet at times. I think it’s very important that universities think about people who do not have this financial back-up when they devise PhD studentships. The arts and humanities would benefit hugely from a more diverse body of specialists and universities need to think more about how to encourage and look after potential applicants. In fact, the health of the subject of English literature depends on it.
The training offered by the Department of English and Modern Languages and the School of History, Philosophy and Culture has been very useful, especially the dialogues between graduate students and members of staff. Being able to teach an undergraduate module last term was invaluable to my own academic development.
I’m not totally certain yet, but I want to continue within academia for as long as I can. I’d like to read, write, and teach outside the academy too, and to carry on looking for ways in which academic research can be more accessible.