When Sam Cohen ’23 took a class on Shakespeare’s Roman plays, she couldn’t help but notice patterns between power and politics. Following her curiosity, she set out to determine if the past could be a key to the present.
This summer, Sam spent eight weeks exploring government structures and literary plots with Assistant Professor of English Ann Marie Hubert as part of the St. Lawrence University Fellowship program, which provides students with a stipend to complete a research project of their interest that culminates in a final research paper, collection of findings, digital media, exhibitions, performance, or other types of creative projects.
Sam shared how collaborating with her mentor helped her gain a new perspective on a classic play.
Note: Responses have been edited for length.
Sam Cohen ’23
Hometown: Sandwich, Massachusetts
Project title: “Power, Politics, and the Plebeians in Shakespeare’s Roman and Greek Plays”
How would you describe your research to someone who doesn’t know anything about the topic?
I read and analyzed some of Shakespeare’s Roman and Greek plays with the intent of understanding the relationship between the common people, the upper class, power, and politics. These plays showcase a variety of government structures with varying levels of political stability. In each of these plays, characters question their respective governments, and, generally, their questioning is what drives the plot. I am seeking to understand if there is a pattern to why the governments in these plays are questioned.
What about this topic sparked your curiosity?
I had the idea for this project after taking a class with Dr. Hubert on Shakespeare’s Roman plays. When I was doing research for my final paper in that class, I began to notice patterns in the political climate of the plays. Mainly, each play is characterized by political instability. Because I was born and raised in the U.S., and because during my lifetime the U.S. has not been politically stable, I find political instability intriguing to study. I thought it would be interesting to see if I could identify a reason behind the instability in these plays and then see if some modern governments lack stability for the same reasons.
Was there a moment when you felt particularly challenged during your research process? How did you overcome it?
The most challenging part of my research process was figuring out how to narrow down my area of focus. It was a slow process, but as I discovered links between the plays I was able to better identify possible arguments to make, and directions to take my project.
What aspect of your research makes you the most proud?
The volume, detail, and level of analysis I have been able to achieve while studying these plays.
What's the most rewarding aspect of working closely with a faculty member?
I had the opportunity to run through my thoughts and ideas with an expert in my area of research. It has given me new perspectives on the plays that I might not have discovered on my own, and it has allowed me to get substantial, helpful feedback on my writing.
Finish this sentence: “Through my research, I hope to show others that…”
Studying literature is important because it opens a window to the past, which can help us view the present more critically.