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Cornell's Rockefeller Hall, often a hub of literary talks.

November 14, 2019

Grad Student Explores Race, Gender of Classic Shakespeare in Thesis Workshop

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In a passionate dialogue on race in the Renaissance, a graduate student presenting new takes on old works shared his research in an intimate workshop last month.

The Oct. 28 talk featured Stephen Kim grad, a Ph.D. candidate in English with minor fields in American Studies and Feminist, Gender, & Sexuality Studies. Kim wrote his dissertation on the overall topic of race and gender, but specifically focused on William Shakespeare’s The Tempest for the first chapter of his dissertation.

The Tempest features a man named Prospero who uses magic to create a storm and torture the eventual survivors of the shipwreck. From there, various characters from the shipwreck interact with one another as family relationships are revealed and conflicts emerge.

“It’s been interesting to be a grad student at a time when the field’s stance on whether race is a proper analytic for the Renaissance has been shifting so drastically,” Kim said.

Kim expanded, talking about how race is a fiction that has real effects on our society. While the workshop focused on the first chapter of his dissertation, there are a multitude of chapters, which Kim started writing in the Fall of last year.

“It was a weird thing where in my project people were first saying ‘why are you doing that’ and people are now saying ‘this is so great,’” Kim posited.

Kim used the workshop as an opportunity to solve some of the confusing elements of his dissertation, identifying mistakes that could be improved throughout the discussion — like a possible lack of expansion about gender.

“I think his work is pushing theoretical questions and combining that with beautiful close readings, that will result in really making a major intervention in the field. Reforming what it might mean to do Renaissance studies.” said Prof. Lucinda Ramberg, anthropology.

Most of the workshop was spent working through Kim’s thought process, focusing on his outline and the logic behind it. Kim explained how his overall dissertation tried to put the most important chapters at the beginning and the end, with the middle chapters mainly focusing on the “weird” and “experimental” parts of his argument.

Though Kim is keeping many of these sections under wraps until publication, he explores race and the racial assumptions of works such as Milton’s Paradise Lost. 

In addition, many of the graduate students that attended gave advice for Kim to improve his dissertation, including possible improvements to the introduction or expanding the range of Tempest characters analyzed, that might have large importance towards Kim’s overall argument.

“The point that I am trying to think about and what I find interesting is how these cultural texts reinforce the structures of oppression that exist in today’s world. Since these texts are so influential and for better or for worse, they are persisting in our imaginary even today, it is important to figure out how these texts are articulating race and gender and what the architecture of oppression in these texts looks like,” Kim explained.

Kim’s argument is one that has only recently become popular, he said, as scholars reevaluate classic works through new eyes in the modern era.