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.
Regan Riehl '24
Major: Literatures in English and Theater
"Yet There Be Method In’t: An Interdisciplinary Investigation of Hamlet Adaptations and the Adaptive Process"
Abstract: This project is an interdisciplinary investigation of theatrical Hamlet adaptations and the adaptive process, examining how playwrights reshape and reimagine Shakespeare's story. Adaptation facilitates a conversation between the adaptive playwright, past playwrights, characters, and the crowd that places Hamlet adaptations in an interconnected web with each other, forming a complex relationship where past plays both serve as a foundation for adaptive playwrights and propel them to explore new terrain. In looking at adaptations like James Ijames’ Fat Ham, Heiner Müller’s Hamletmachine, and David Ives’ Words, Words, Words, this project also uncovers the structural and cyclical aspects that make Hamlet a compelling source for adaptation. My research focuses on the symbiotic relationship between scholarship and creative work. Alongside traditional research, I have also written Butterball, an original theatrical adaptation of Hamlet. Focusing on the sibling relationship between Ophelia and Laertes, Butterball follows the imagined futures Ophelia envisions, breaking down the narrative structures that holds them and their shared trauma. By engaging in the creative process as a playwright, this research unearths the irrational elements of adaptation that cannot be fully captured through scholarly analysis alone.
Was there anything surprising about the work you did?
There is this idea in theatre that an artist identifies themselves, identifies the figure of the character, and the ultimate rendering of that character from the space where they meet. This idea informed my research in many ways—both in substance and in process. By identifying myself as a researcher and myself as an artist, I found a space where I could live between the two. In doing so, I could navigate the differing demands of the research, breaking down the boundary between these two disciplines so that they could be made of the same fiber. Of course, this process is messier in practice than on paper. Implementing what you learn in researching the adaptive process for playwrights is not as simple as following a series of steps. The work needs the opportunity to breathe so that it can grow. It became this constant balance between converging my processes and leaving space for diverges that can reveal new truths. In a way, I was not only writing an adaptation of Hamlet, but adapting my own research for the stage.
How will you use your research in future studies?
I plan on writing my senior thesis on this topic, taking a closer look at James Ijames’ Fat Ham. By looking at how Ijames engages in the adaptive process, converging and diverging from the text, I will investigate how his work uses and changes Hamlet. My research will also help me as I continue with my creative work. As a playwright, exploring adaptation allows us to create something new from the old, placing both pieces in a strange temporal place where time folds on itself. This is not unlike the nature of theatre itself, which requires artists to revisit and reimagine works written long before the curtain rises. I also believe that keeping these conversations of adaptation in mind will be crucial as I collaborate with other artists to bring one of my adaptive works to the stage in Spring 2023. This process will only expand upon my research, allowing me to see how the adaptive process carries through into a production.
How did you choose your topic?
As someone who is both an English student and a theatremaker, I have always been surprised at the division between these two fields. Both require paying attention to a text, but they approach this process differently. What is helpful to a student engaging in literary criticism might be less valuable to those who look to embody the text. But what if we broke down this boundary? What ideas can emerge when we acknowledge plays as both literary works and works designed for embodiment? Shakespeare was a natural starting ground for approaching this question, as it sits in this delightful place between the two disciplines. As an artist who works with adaptation, I also considered how adaptive playwrights must investigate the source material to transform it. This process is personal and one that folds into my questions about the divisions between these fields.
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.