I’m currently working on a project that brings together my interests in Shakespeare, gender, and the teenage brain. I’d been thinking for a long time about all of the teenage girls in Shakespeare’s plays, many of whom are explicitly marked as being fourteen, or almost fourteen (Juliet, Viola, and Miranda to name a few). Why did Shakespeare and his contemporaries feature them so often? I knew that there was more to this than simply a fascination with the sexually maturing female body. I’d been researching the seventeenth-century “Jesuitess” May Ward’s pioneering work educating Catholic girls in theatrical performance, and I’d been continuing my work with early modern medical texts. As I dove more deeply into how girls’ brains were imagined to develop when they experienced “the change of fourteen years” (that’s how Juliet’s dad describes puberty), I started to see a radically different story than the one most of us have been told about teenage girls, both then and now, as unhinged, emotional messes. By bringing together scientific discourses, theatrical representations, and real-life girls from the time, I’ve been able to bring these inventive, agile, and focused female minds forward.
As the inaugural Stephen E. King Chair in Literature, I’ve organized a number of public humanities events and lectures on campus, including talks by Patricia Wen, editor of the Boston Globe Spotlight team, and Irish studies scholar James Smith, an advocate for the survivors of Ireland’s notorious Magdalene Laundries.