Award-winning research on Shakespeare's mix of elusive language and subversive satire
One of three English doctoral candidates receiving support this year through the Graduate School's highly competitive Doctoral Dissertation Fellowships (DDF), Marc Juberg has been able to focus on researching and writing his dissertation on Shakespeare. He's also been turning parts of his chapters into journal articles and presenting sections at conferences, including the Blackfriars Conference in October and the Shakespeare Association of America's annual meeting at the end of March. A native Californian, Juberg took a couple years to "warm up" to Minnesota, he admits, but these days you'll find him enjoying the outdoors, running along the river or around one of the lakes with his wife Vivian: "Even in the dead of winter I find that it's a great way to calm the nerves and expand the mind."
"In an environment where
audiences, as the evidence
suggests, were not uniformly
up to the task of listening
did not seem especially
interested in making it
easier for them."
What was the genesis of your interest in your dissertation topic, "Satirizing the Audience: Shakespeare and the Uses of Poetic Obscurity"?
It will probably sound a touch sentimental, if not also a little pat, but I can trace my dissertation project back to my first encounters with Shakespeare in high school. What has always attracted me most to his work, and especially the plays, is the double-edged character of much of his dramatic language, its way of both communicating what feel like profound truths and leaving one feeling puzzled or disturbed. There is immeasurable value in the experience of grasping at an emotional level something that remains opaque to the intellect, and I have spent much of my adult life obsessing over specimens of Shakespeare's poetry which, no matter how many times or how closely I read them, seem to hang just out of reach.
After a while I began to conceptualize such language as the product of a deliberate and constantly evolving strategy on Shakespeare's part, a kind of play-without-the-plays that takes place in the moment of transmission and dramatizes the audience's ongoing struggle to understand what they hear. Subsequent research into Elizabethan satire, which I started pursuing in order to better understand the context and provenance of Troilus and Cressida
, has helped me develop and clarify my ideas about the function of difficult poetry in the theater. In an environment where audiences, as the evidence suggests, were not uniformly up to the task of listening attentively, Shakespeare did not seem especially interested in making it easier for them. That fascinating observation alone breeds questions that will occupy me for the rest of my career.
Did certain professors significantly nurture the project?
I owe the largest debt of gratitude to my advisor, Professor Katherine Scheil, who has been a constant source of writing advice and encouraging words. Her "nurture" has complemented my "nature," helping me to scale back my lofty expectations, to trim my shaggy-dog tendencies, and to position my work among current debates in Shakespeare studies. Professor Andrew Elfenbein also deserves mention for challenging the way I think about literary language and teaching me to look at questions of style through a linguistics and cognitive science lens. Finally, I must also acknowledge Dr. Tom Clayton, recently retired, with whom I have enjoyed many stimulating conversations about the enduring value of Shakespeare's art. These conversations have reinforced my belief that Shakespeare has something worthwhile to say to the 21st century, a convinction that keeps me mindful of my own commitment to and love for my chosen vocation.
The Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship allows a year off from teaching responsibilities. But you've taught several classes during your studies here. What do you enjoy most about teaching, and how has being a teacher enhanced your scholarship?
As much as I was thrilled to receive a DDF, I have missed the frisson of teaching, for which there is no substitute. Knowledge shared or produced in a class assumes shapes that are hard to predict, and that exciting element of contingency is precisely what has made me a better writer and a better scholar of early modern drama. Just as Shakespeare's theater was animated by the uncertainty of live performance, so I've learned to cherish the provisional nature of my own scripts, be they lesson plans or drafts of my scholarly work. And of course, several semesters of having my own audience, often engaged but sometimes listless, has given me a new perspective on the questions of audience at the heart of my dissertation.
What has been your favorite discovery, living here?
The Classical Actors Ensemble
(CAE) is a local theater troupe that exclusively performs early modern English plays. They're talented and conscientious ambassadors for Shakespeare and his contemporaries, each of their productions striking a deft balance between faithful delivery of elevated language and vibrant storytelling. Simply put, they follow Hamlet's famous advice of suiting the action to the word and the word to the action. Since I first learned about them in 2014, I have not missed a show.