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Each year the Ethyle R. Wolfe Institute for the Humanities awards a number of full-year and/or half-year fellowships to full-time members of the Brooklyn College faculty to support their scholarly research and writing in the humanities. This year Tanya Pollard is the recipient of the full-year fellowship.
Tanya Pollard is Professor of English at Brooklyn College and the author of Greek Tragic Women on Shakespearean Stages (2017), which won the Roland H. Bainton Book Prize in early modern literature, and Drugs and Theater in Early Modern England (2005). With Marcus Nevitt she has co-edited Reader in Tragedy (2019); with Tania Demetriou she has co-edited Homer and Greek Tragedy in Early Modern England’s Theatres (2017) and Milton, Drama, and Greek Texts (2016); with Katharine Craik she has co-edited Shakespearean Sensations: Experiencing Literature in Early Modern England (2013);and she has edited Shakespeare’s Theater: A Sourcebook (2003). A former Rhodes Scholar, she has received awards from the NEH, Whiting, and Mellon foundations, and the Warburg Institute; she is also a member of the Council of Scholars at Theater for a New Audience, and works with actors and directors at the Public Theater and the Red Bull Theater. She is currently editing Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist for Arden Early Modern Drama, and writing about early modern actors.
Greek Tragic Women on Shakespearean Stages argues that ancient Greek plays exerted a powerful and uncharted influence on early modern England's dramatic landscape. Drawing on original research to challenge longstanding assumptions about Greek texts' invisibility, the book shows not only that the plays were more prominent than we have believed, but that early modern readers and audiences responded powerfully to specific plays and themes. The Greek plays most popular in the period were not male-centered dramas such as Sophocles' Oedipus, but tragedies by Euripides that focused on raging, bereaved mothers and sacrificial virgin daughters, especially Hecuba and Iphigenia. Because tragedy was firmly linked with its Greek origin in the period's writings, these iconic female figures acquired a privileged status as synecdoches for the tragic theater and its ability to conjure sympathetic emotions in audiences. When Hamlet reflects on the moving power of tragic performance, he turns to the most prominent of these figures: "What's Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba/ That he should weep for her?" Through readings of plays by Shakespeare and his contemporary dramatists, this book argues that newly visible Greek plays, identified with the origins of theatrical performance and represented by passionate female figures, challenged early modern writers to reimagine the affective possibilities of tragedy, comedy, and the emerging genre of tragicomedy.
Drugs and Theater in Early Modern England asks why Shakespeare and his contemporary playwrights were so preoccupied with drugs and poisons and, at a deeper level, why both critics and supporters of the theater, as well as playwrights themselves, so frequently adopted a chemical vocabulary to describe the effects of the theater on audiences. Drawing upon original medical and literary research, Pollard shows that the potency of the link between drugs and plays in the period demonstrates a model of drama radically different than our own, a model in which plays exert a powerful impact on spectators' bodies as well as minds.Early modern physiology held that the imagination and emotions were part of the body, and exerted a material impact on it, yet scholars of medicine and drama alike have not recognized the consequences of this idea. Plays, which alter our emotions and thought, simultaneously change us physically.This book argues that the power of the theater in early modern England, as well as the striking hostility to it, stems from the widely held contemporary idea that drama acted upon the body as well as the mind. In yoking together pharmacy and theater, this book offers a new model for understanding the relationship between texts and bodies. Just as bodies are constituted in part by the imaginative fantasies they consume, the theater's success (and notoriety) depends on its power over spectators' bodies. Drugs, which conflate concerns about unreliable appearances and material danger, evoked fascination and fear in this period by identifying a convergence point between the imagination and the body, the literary and the scientific, the magical and the rational. This book explores that same convergence point, and uses it to show the surprising physiological powers attributed to language and especially to the embodied language of the theater.