Mosaic / April 17, 2019

Professor deconstructs colonial play at Caxton event

Assistant Professor of English Roya Biggie presented her research on “The Island Princess” by John Fletcher. Biggie reminded the audience that colonial texts are products of their time and should be analyzed as such. (Rafael Cho/TKS)

Assistant Professor of English Roya Biggie enlightened students and faculty alike when her observation of a pun in a century old text changed the work’s entire meaning. Senior Sosy Fleming was one of those students impressed by her observations.

“Once [speakers] start presenting their evidence my mind immediately goes, ‘Oh man I should have seen that,’” Fleming said.

Caxton Club held a talk last Friday afternoon in Old Main featuring Biggie, who presented her research to a packed room. Her analysis was on an old English play, “The Island Princess” by John Fletcher. One of the most memorable parts of the presentation for Fleming was an observation of the character Ruy Dias and his name, sounding like the Rue herb.

“Her examination of this one single name is just absolutely enlightening to this one aspect of the play,” Fleming said.

Professor Biggie is one of the newest editions to the Knox English department, joining the teaching staff in 2018. She finished her Ph.D at CUNY Graduate Center and received many honors, including an award for the best dissertation in early modern studies.

Biggie was inspired to dig deeper into this text and the pervasive themes of colonialism after a discussion about the text in a class she taught. Currently, she is still looking at her research and analysis as she prepares to send a written version of her talk out for peer review.

She was direct and made no excuses when discussing the play’s history and parts that modern audiences might find problematic.

The talk included discussion of the effects, both intentional and unintentional, of colonialism and a discussion of what the play had to say about it. Junior and Caxton Club member James Cook enjoyed Biggie’s analysis and appreciated how she handled these difficult topics in the text.

“She didn’t dance around it being problematic, but also didn’t condemn its importance because it’s problematic, which I think is a really important line to walk as academics,” Cook said.

When the event ended and Biggie opened the floor for questions, members in the audience inquired into whether or not Knox would ever put on the production. Many in the audience were skeptical to the possibility, given the issues discussed in the story. Fleming emphasized the importance of looking at these works from the past with consideration for when they were written.

“Since it’s a product of its time, I think it’s important to examine it as a product of its time, and like, as a piece of history, certainly, to analyze it as something we can learn from and maybe do better,” Fleming said. “It’s still a brilliant piece of writing.”

The story features the English and Portuguese, both countries who are notorious for their colonial pasts. The story focuses on the characters’ interference in the political landscapes of the lands they have colonized with an emphasis on these colonizers fighting to marry the princess. With many of these countries still dealing with the aftereffects of colonialism today and the general uncomfortable treatment of women in the story, many find the play somewhat uncomfortable.

Cook echoed this statement, with an emphasis on studying the reasons a modern audience would disagree with the actions of the characters, further focusing on how those problems may still exist in society right now

“They were written for a reason, right? Especially when we don’t agree with things from these time periods, we need to talk about why and what remains of that still,” Cook said. “To look back at where they came from is really important.”

Caxton Club will have three more readings this year with each judging and presenting different literary awards to the student winners. Anika Fajardo will read on May 3 and will present the Davenport Nonfiction prize. Beth Charlebois will read on May 15 and will present the Howard Wilson prize in Literary Criticism. Meg Files will read on May 17 and will present the Caxton Club prizes in fiction and poetry. All events will be at 4 p.m. in the Alumni Room, Old Main.

Zarah Khan, Co-Mosaic Editor
Zarah Khan is a senior majoring in English literature and minoring in political science. She started volunteer writing during Fall term of her sophomore year.

Tags:  "The Island Princess" Caxton Club John Fletcher Roya Biggie

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