As a junior at St. Mary’s College, Assistant Professor of English Roya Biggie read John Ford’s “‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore” for a renaissance drama class, a play whose climactic scene involves a woman’s heart being ripped from her body. Biggie’s professor connected this to William Harvey’s discovery that the heart was a pump and circulated blood through the body in the early 17th century, which imbued the organ with new significance.
“That connection, even though we didn’t really explore it in class, was the moment where I was like ‘I really need to know more about this,” she said. “I will study these strange medical theories and these very weird plays.”
Biggie’s research focuses on how early modern and Renaissance tragedies engage with medical discoveries of the period. Specifically, how humoral theory (the idea that the human body should contain a balance of black bile, yellow bile, choler and blood) formed a bridge between human emotions and the natural environment.
“In works of early modern literature, the language of the humors is often the language of the emotions,” Biggie said. “Expressions — like feeling hot-headed — had for early moderns a material basis; that is, they believed they literally could have an excess of hot humors.”
Biggie has aspired to teach English at a liberal arts school since she was a student herself. During her time at St. Mary’s College, Biggie valued the close relationships she formed with professors and the open classroom environments they created. She appreciates how the education gives students the opportunity to take multiple courses with the same professors instead of getting lost in the crowd.
“I knew that I wanted to teach at an institution where I could get to know my students and see them develop, both personally and academically,” Biggie said.
Biggie has tried to emulate these qualities in her Creating Monsters First-Year Preceptorial this term. So far she has been impressed with her students’ enthusiasm and willingness to have open discussions about complex issues.
As she teaches Introduction to Shakespeare next term, Biggie wants to show students the continued importance of classical texts. Renaissance tragedies like Shakespeare’s “Titus Andronicus,” John Webster’s “The Duchess of Malfi,” and Thomas Kyd’s “The Spanish Tragedy” have had the greatest impact on Biggie’s work, and she is excited to share them with students.
“I hope to show my students that studying 400-year-old works of literature can help us have difficult conversations that are still very relevant to our lives today,” Biggie said.