I just finished turning something I wrote two-and-a-half years ago (the second chapter of my undergrad thesis) into a paper I’ll present at a conference in Victoria later this week. What a strange revision process this was. This chapter in particular, on Jonson’s The New Inn and Shakespeare’s As You Like It, was where I first started thinking about the work I did on boy actors in my Master’s thesis, and it was fun to go back and see the undeveloped traces of present thoughts, and to track the way my thinking’s changed on certain matters. I was, very generally, providing a reading of how The New Inn adapts romantic-festive comedy, and navigating between reading the adaptation as parodic or earnest. After writing extensively on city comedy last year, however, I was finally able to understand why undergrad Erin was so interested in the discussion of romantic-festive genres at all: she wanted to read the play as a city comedy that adapts romatinc-festive tropes — and did, but in a number of tacit, symptomatic and indirect ways (I’ve now made this argument directly). A few of the critics I cited in this second chapter (Juliet Dusinberre, James C. Bulman) ultimately became part of my MA thesis’s introductory chapter on ways of reading the boy actor (I still love their arguments). My response to one critic in particular (who may or may not be my present supervisor) I’ve rethought. Fascinatingly, I notice that even though in my main argument I disagreed with her fairly optimistic reading of the play, repeated footnotes in which I continued to return to this article (there are about four or five) indicate that I was compelled by it (just one of the moments where I can tell I was still working through an idea, but never quite came up with a complete answer). My present attitude towards Jonsonian city comedy is one that is more complex, but ultimately more optimistic. That is, I think Jonson’s plays are often anxious about the chaos that characterises early modern London, but are also the product of a dramatist who loves the city’s theatricality, its stubborn resistance to categorisation and structure, and the fluid relationships that it fosters.
I also note that I’ve become a better reader in the last two years. I’ve learned to adopt a more generous attitude towards other critics: I don’t have to take an all-or-nothing approach to critical articles; I can disagree with one part (or even the whole) of an argument while understanding how the argument enables us to understand a work (why the critic made it in the first place). I’ve also learned to stop trying to come up with the answer to a text: Jonson’s play can be a city comedy, and an earnest romance, and a parody of the same; it can create a space for female friendship and have voice terribly (even violently) misogynist thoughts; it can propose equal relationships between men and women and reassert patriarchal familial structures.
The prospect of editing this paper filled me with all kinds of dread over the last few weeks: I suspect the prospect of revisiting one’s old work is one that makes a number of academics cringe. Having gotten through the worst of it, however, I feel relieved: relieved that I wasn’t entirely unintelligent as an undergrad, relieved that I seem to have actually learned something in the years since undergrad, relieved that I no longer put commas in strange, strange places.
And, of course, relieved that I finished the paper in time: now I just have to make it to the airport without mishap.
18 October 2010 ~ Hamilton