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Hanna Holborn Gray Fellow Elinor Berger '22

September 29, 2020 By Avery Matteo '22

The Hanna Holborn Gray Fellowships offer funded independent research in the humanities. We're highlighting the research of this year's fellows in a series of online profiles.

Elinor Berger '22, English
"Cleopatra, She Wrote: An Analysis of how Women Wrote Cleopatra VII in Early Modern Drama"

Abstract: Throughout the early modern period, neoclassical dramas emerged as a popular means of relaying political and religious beliefs to private and public audiences in England. When Mary Sidney translated the French playwright Robert Garnier’s drama "Marc Antoine," she began a tradition of English authors translating and writing plays following the tragic lives of Antony and Cleopatra. This project explores the impact of Sidney’s translation, particularly on the lives of early modern aristocratic women, as well as the implications of depicting the generally domestic aspects of the life of a female sovereign. In this project, I also work to trace the popularity of the Cleopatra narrative, from the “Sidney Circle” to the public stage, as I examine Samuel Daniel’s "Cleopatra" and Katherine Philips’ translation of Pierre Corneille’s "La Mort de Pompée." My investigation into how portrayals of Cleopatra varied from play to play culminates in an analysis of early modern political allegory, stoic philosophy, and how female identities changed and emerged because of the Egyptian pharaoh.

Was there anything surprising about the work you did?

For me, the most surprising thing when completing this project was discovering the sometimes very significant influence the women writers I chose to focus on had. Mary Sidney in particular was pivotal in bringing the Antony and Cleopatra story to the world of Renaissance English dramas, as well as an influential patron to her contemporary writers. It was extremely gratifying to find that these women were appreciated as writers during their time. Overall, this has ignited an interest in me to continue to pursue reading and analyzing early modern texts by women.

How will you use your research in future studies?

Because I am only a junior this year, I have not yet decided what my thesis topic is going to be, but I am definitely considering using my Hanna Holborn Gray research for my thesis. Beyond that, I am very interested in continuing to study early modern women writers in general, particularly in the context of feminist studies.

How did you choose your topic?

In Fall 2019, I took a class at Haverford on pre-modern women writers (although it included early modern women as well), and we read a few excerpts from Aemilia Lanyer’s Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum. Within these excerpts, there are a few lines concerning Cleopatra, which got me interested in what early modern women might have thought of the Egyptian queen, especially since a lot of our modern perception of her derives from Shakespeare’s "Antony and Cleopatra" and not anything written by a woman.

The Hanna Holborn Gray Fellowships offer funded independent research in the humanities. Each summer, Bryn Mawr College awards up to 15 students a summer fellowship of $4,500 to undertake an independent research project in the humanities or humanistic social sciences.  The research may either be the beginning of the senior thesis or a project that stands alone, but is relevant to their intellectual interests and must be supported by a faculty advisor.

Hanna Holborn Gray Undergraduate Research Fellowships

English Department