Senior Becky Hixon can be spotted around campus this year carrying around a large collection of Shakespeare’s plays with numerous markers. The English literature major from Davenport, Iowa is conducting an honors project that applies queer theory to Shakespeare.
Hixon is writing her project in the form of a long essay ranging between 75 and 120 pages. She chose to focus on one of Shakespeare’s tetralogies, or four related plays.
“It’s kind of like ‘Star Wars,’ where he wrote one, and then wrote another one later, but it’s an earlier version,” Hixon said. The tetralogy she is analyzing includes “Henry II,” “Richard IV Parts I and II” and “Henry V.”
The character who becomes King Henry the Fifth in the fourth play traditionally represents the “masculine ideal,” but Hixon is choosing to look at how Shakespeare’s portrayal undermines the masculine ideal by presenting many different kinds of masculinity. Other male characters in the plays, such as Harry, are used to contrast different identities and masculinities, according to Hixon.
“When he’s the king, he kind of lets those [masculine ideals] go, which kind of degrades his ideal status as a king,” she said.
Hixon conceived of the idea when she took Assistant Professor of English Valerie Billing’s Shakespeare’s class, which focused on both his histories and comedies. Hixon had never applied queer theory to Shakespeare before and found she enjoyed the work.
At the end of last term, Hixon began an independent study to verify that she wished to follow through with her Honors project. After compiling three annotated bibliographies and conducting some research, she developed a thesis and began writing over the summer.
“It was really hard to transition from research into writing because my head was so full of other people’s ideas and their terms,” she said. “It’s really hard to relate modern concepts of gender and sexuality and try not to let that influence you, because it was very very different during Shakespeare’s time.”
Hixon read a lot of modern queer theory, along with analyses of Renaissance literature, so that she could combine the two ideas.
Currently, she is only focusing on the first chapter of her essay.
“[It’s] 19 pages of really good, ‘I won’t have to revise this anymore’ stuff and then like 21 pages of really crappy outline right now,” she said.
She plans on using this first chapter as her writing material for her applications to grad school, where she intends to study Renaissance literature while trying to find programs that also integrate queer studies.
Billing and Associate Dean and English Professor Lori Schroeder are co-chairing Hixon’s project. Hixon has turned to Billing during the process for help with revisions and finding texts to research. Schroeder helped Hixon get her project off the ground and identify her focus.
She reflected that the experience, while stressful, has been fun so far. The Honors students even held a pizza party last week and Hixon was able to learn more about other students’ projects.
“There’s so many science people [and] I had no idea what they were talking about, but it was nice to have other people who were also freaking out about the same things as me,” she said.