By Jeffrey Kahan
This is part of a series of interviews with working Shakespeareans, how they got started in the field, and their ongoing interests. This month, I spoke with Cameron Hunt McNabb, an assistant professor of English at Southeastern University. Her primary focus is on medieval and early modern drama, and she has publications in or forthcoming in Shakespeare Bulletin, Pedagogy, Neophilologus, and Early Theatre.
1. Your work demonstrates scholarship across the medieval and early modern divide. How did you end up with interests in medieval drama and Shakespearean studies?
I actually went through my M.A. work rather nomadically, wandering from period to period. It wasn’t until I attended a plenary lecture by Helen Cooper at Cambridge (during their International Summer School Programme) that my interests solidified on medieval and early modern drama. At the time, I was about to start my thesis but had no idea what topic to pursue. Cooper’s lecture discussed the important work still to be done on the connection between Shakespeare and medieval drama. By the end of her hour, I was fascinated by this developing field. I returned to my home institution and completed my M.A. thesis on the Macro plays.
When I began to pursue my Ph.D., I knew that I wanted to continue researching drama across the medieval and early modern divide; and while Helen Cooper had piqued my interest in the discipline, I must say that it was my advisors (Dr. Nicole Guenther Discenza and Dr. Sara Deats) who kept me in the field. Their scholarship and teaching are models of everything I love about the academy. David Bevington’s work was also very influential on my research, and I was fortunate enough to have him serve on my dissertation committee. Each of them contributed in meaningful and significant ways to my dissertation, which examines heresy on the medieval and early modern stage.
2. How has the transition been from being a graduate student to an assistant professor?
Not as painful as I thought! Actually, it has been quite painless. My teaching load is similar to what I held in grad school (a small shift from a 3/3 to a 4/4), and my dissertation work is now replaced with revising and submitting articles, some of them from the dissertation itself. I do spend more time advising students, which I only did informally in grad school. The one component of being an assistant professor that is new is serving on councils and committees (so many meetings!), but it has been a wonderful experience learning the inner workings of the university and seeing how many ways faculty contribute to it. I do think that some of those responsibilities can be a bit opaque in grad school, so there was a learning curve when transitioning to the assistant professor role, but I’m enjoying participating in the life of the university in those new ways. Perhaps the biggest change is that I don’t get student discounts anymore!
3. What do you find most rewarding or engaging about Shakespearean studies?
In Jonson’s prefatory poem to the First Folio, he calls Shakespeare’s works “living lines,” and I think one of the most important ways that his lines live is through performance. Because most of the plays we study weren’t meant to be read but rather seen and heard, I really value performance and enacting Shakespearean (and other authors’) texts. Thus, some of my scholarship focuses on reviewing modern productions of early modern plays, such as Shakespeare in the Park’s As You Like It and more recently the all male production of Twelfth Night on Broadway. I usually emphasize performance as well in my courses.
Another aspect that has always drawn me to study Shakespearean texts is the language itself. As a medievalist/early modernist, language and language change are prominent components of my work, and while I do not support a bardolatrous veneration of Shakespeare’s language (on things such as the vocabulary myth), he is undoubtedly an adept, witty, and compelling wordsmith. So, besides my performance research mentioned above, my work also focuses on Shakespeare’s language and semiotics, and I tend to foreground discussions of language in my courses.
4. What projects are you currently working on?
Most recently, I had an article on Falstaff’s semiotics come back as a revise and resubmit, so I’ll be spending much of the summer reworking that piece. I also plan to review The Globe’s Titus Andronicus (in London) and Shakespeare in the Park’s Much Ado About Nothing (in NYC) this summer. I have a handful of other articles in various stages of drafting and revision that I hope to submit by the end of the year.
Shakespeareans, I’m always looking for people to interview. If interested, please contact me, Jeffrey Kahan, at Vortiger@hotmail.com, subject line: The Blotted Line.