Interview with Rachel Fennell

Our next seminar will be taken by Rachel Fennell on Tuesday 6 June. Rachel will be speaking on ”Look, her lips. Look there, look there’: The Consequences of Kissing in Early Modern Tragedies’. As usual, tea and coffee from 17:40 with the seminar at 18:00. 

Tell us a bit about yourself, where are you from?

I’m from the Black Country, West Midlands, which means people automatically do terrible impressions of an accent that I don’t have when they meet me. I’ve lived in lots of different places, however, including Chengdu and Bangkok so I’m a bit of a wanderer. I did my BA and MA at Lancaster, which with its castle and cathedral reminds me a lot of Durham.

What brought you to Durham?

I’ve always wanted to do a PhD and Durham has always had an excellent reputation, so it seemed like the perfect place to come and complete my studies. I feel very fortunate to be living in such a beautiful place.

What is your favourite thing about the medieval/early modern period?00bayfield

How grim and gruesome it could be! From catching the Black Death to running the risk of being burnt at the stake, I’m constantly struck by how extreme everything could be, whether it was religion or politics, criminal punishment or disease. Of course, some of those issues we’re still dealing with today, and I find it fascinating to look at the parallels between our own time and that of the Medieval/Early Modern period. In many ways we’ve barely changed at all.

What does your research focus on?

I’m currently investigating representations of the Sleeping Beauty motif, considering the cultural and medical implications of the comatose woman in conjunction with Medieval and Early Modern imaginative fictions. My research looks at how the sleeping corpse evolves from a Medieval image of saintly veneration with miraculous healing abilities to cynical Jacobean fetish object. In particular, I am focusing on the reactions of others to the corpse, especially that of both the beloved and the unwanted suitor, as well as the medical, chemical, spiritual, physical and romantic interventions necessary in order to successfully -or otherwise- induce a state of consciousness once more.

What do you plan to focus on in your seminar?

Rogue_-_Iceman_kiss
X-Men: Cursed Kisses are Still a Thing

I’m going to be considering the idea of the ‘True Love’s Kiss’, which for better or worse is ingrained in Western culture and features in all the very best fairy tales. I’ll be looking at how for the Early Modern tragedian, however, kissing a slumbering corpse was often what killed Prince Charming.  I’ll therefore be briefly exploring the motif of the cursed corpse kiss and focusing on why the mouth was the gateway to life and death.

If you were not in academia, what would you be doing?

Teaching English as a foreign language, somewhere in South East Asia. It’s what I was doing before I came to Durham to start my PhD and I really loved everything about it: the people; the food; the weather; the amazing places I was privileged enough to see. I’d love to go back one day.

Do you have a favourite medieval/early modern text?

My favourite texts of the Medieval/Early Modern period have always been plays and as much as I love a bit of blood and gore, my favourite play is Shakespeare’s great romantic comedy Much Ado About Nothing.  A scheming bastard, a faked death, warring would-be lovers and a happy ending? Just my cup of tea.

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