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Interview with JASP Speaker Mary Floyd-Wilson

One of this year’s Jane Austen Summer Program speakers is UNC’s own Mary Floyd-Wilson, who chairs the Department of English and Comparative Literature and specializes in Shakespeare and early modern literature. Her works include English Ethnicity and Race in Early Modern Drama and Occult Knowledge, Science, and Gender on the Shakespearean Stage, and she is currently writing The Tempter or the Tempted: Demonic Causality on the Shakespearean Stage.She is, in her own words, a lifelong fan of Jane Austen, so this year’s theme is particularly well suited to Floyd-Wilson.

She kindly answered our questions on her talk, Shakespeare, and of course, Jane Austen. She will be giving the plenary address at 11 a.m. on Friday, June 17.

Can you give us a glimpse of what your talk will focus on?

The title of the talk is "'Virtues and Traitors': Dispositions in Shakespeare and Austen.” I’m interested in how the concept of one’s disposition is central to both authors’ determination of their characters’ fates. I’d give you a better glimpse, but I’ve yet to write the paper!

What did you think when you first heard that this year's JASP was going to focus on "Mansfield Park" as well as Shakespeare's "All's Well" and "King Lear"?

I thought the choices were fascinating. Certainly the “Bertram” name came to mind as a ready link. Helena [in “Alls Well That Ends Well”], like Fanny, must manage the difficulty of being dependent on a family that outranks her (and falling in love with a member of that family), so there are similar class issues. With regard to King Lear, the fairy-tale structure of two “bad” daughters and a “good” daughter struck me as a potential parallel.

What would you say are some similarities between Austen's and Shakespeare's view of the world? What are some key differences?

Both see the world in terms of a rigid class structure. Both take a comically critical view of the overly self-important. Austen lives in a much more rational, disenchanted world than Shakespeare.

Austen's juvenilia features her version of the "History of England" in which she sides with Mary Queen of Scots. How do you think a discussion between Austen and Shakespeare would go?

I guess it would depend on how safe Shakespeare felt to discuss the powerful figures of his era openly. Certainly, they could address their shared interest in the challenges and fascinations of historiography. Perhaps they would have a sympathetic discussion of the complex ways that powerful women have been portrayed throughout history by turning to Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra.

What Shakespeare play would you have recommended the Bertrams stage in their home rather than "Lovers' Vows"?

I’m not sure that any theatrical endeavor would escape the disapproval of Sir Thomas Bertram. But perhaps A Midsummer Night’s Dream would allow them to claim that the performance was simply an effect of the audience’s slumbering. Plus, Austen might enjoy the implicit mockery of Queen Elizabeth in Titania’s humiliation.

What is your favorite Shakespeare play and why? What is your favorite Austen novel and why?

Macbeth, for now, because I’m currently working on a project about witches, the devil, and magic. Emma; I love Austen’s extraordinary use of free indirect discourse in this novel.

What are you most looking forward to during JASP 2022?

Meeting fellow Austen enthusiasts. I’m a Shakespeare scholar, but I’m an Austen fan.

Tickets to JASP are still available. Register here. Middle and high-school teachers are encouraged to apply for the JASP Teacher Scholarship by March 21.


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