On December 6th, four students–Emily DeFreitas, Devon Fiore, Autumn Heisler and Maria Klecko–traveled with Professor Castaldo to Moravian College in Bethlehem PA for the Undergraduate Conference in Medieval and Early Modern Studies. Despite the dreary weather, the day was a complete success.
All the papers the students gave were related to Christopher Marlowe’s plays, and were written as part of their English 340: pre-1800 Author Study class that focused on Marlowe. Maria Klecko presented first, on parent/child dynamics in Marlowe. She looked specifically at The Jew of Malta and Edward II, plays which contained an uncaring and self-centered father and a devoted child who ultimately turned away from the unsatisfying relationship with the father. Maria argued persuasively that in both cases the audience gradually comes to admire the child as he or she develops an ethical sense that is stronger than the father’s.
Because Maria and Devon were presenting in the same time slot, but different panels, we did not get to hear the questions the audience had for Maria. Instead we dashed up two flights of stairs to hear Devon present on modern performances of Marlowe’s plays. After an exhaustive amount of research, Devon concluded that while audiences like adapted Shakespeare that plays with setting or even structure, those same audiences will react negatively to performances of Marlowe that have a very strong “concept.” She theorized this was due to the audience’s unfamiliarity with most of Marlowe’s plays and thus wanting to see straightforward or traditional versions. Devon had a lot of questions to answer as people were fascinated by the various productions she described.
Up next was Emily’s paper on Christ imagery in Edward II. Emily’s paper argued that Marlowe deliberately used Christ imagery in describing Edward, which seems counter intuitive since Edward is a self-centered failure who almost destroys his kingdom in pursuit of pleasure. Emily suggested that since the imagery drew from both Catholic and Protestant traditions and was connected to one of Marlowe’s most problematic protagonists that Marlowe’s goal was actually to unsettle the audience’s assumptions about Jesus rather than make Edward more appealing.
After lunch on campus, there was time for a trip to Vegan Treats, an all vegan bakery a mile from campus and then for a stop at the armorer’s table. The conference had a number of medieval recreations on display but the students were most interested in the arms and armor!
The final presentation of the day was Autumn’s argument that the huge number of asides in The Jew of Malta could be linked to Marlowe’s spy career and not just to theatrical convention. It was unfortunate that by this point the number of conference goers had thinned quite a bit and so Autumn didn’t have the audience the other students did, as her paper was a wonderful connection of literary and biographical investigation.
After that, we wended our way home in a downpour, repeatedly expressing gratitude that it was rain and not snow we were driving through! The conference was a huge success for Widener English with all the students presenting with great poise and answering questions confidently. Hopefully we will have an even bigger turnout at the next conference.