From Sir Gawain to Shakespeare: Mount conference examines student research in medieval, early modern lit

February 24, 2020

Gabrielle Hollant of Cambria Heights, N.Y. (holding microphone), discusses her research into Shakespeare. Her classmate and fellow presenter Mikaela Burch of Beacon, N.Y. (far left) looks on.

Gabrielle Hollant of Cambria Heights, N.Y. (holding microphone), discusses her research into Shakespeare. Her classmate and fellow presenter Mikaela Burch of Beacon, N.Y. (far left) looks on.

Scholars from Mount Saint Mary College – alongside those from eight other area collages – presented their literature-based research at the Sixth Annual Hudson Valley Medieval and Early Modern Undergraduate Symposium on Saturday, February 15.

The event, hosted at the Mount, brought together students and faculty mentors from the College of Mount Saint Vincent, Fordham University, Iona College, Manhattan College, Marist College, Middlebury College, SUNY New Paltz, and Vassar College.

Following a record number of submissions, the symposium showcased 16 exceptional papers in the fields of history, literature, and medieval and early modern studies. Among the scholars presenting their original research were Mount students Mikaela Burch of Beacon, N.Y.; Sierra Caban of Beacon, N.Y.; Gabrielle Hollant of Cambria Heights, N.Y.; and Jessica Romaniello of Waterbury, Conn.

Burch, Hollant, and Romaniello wrote their papers for a Shakespeare course taught by Rob Wakeman, assistant professor of English at Mount Saint Mary College. Wakeman notes that the course is an intensive seminar where students develop their own research topics and “dig deep into the library databases to weave together an original argument.”

“This is a challenging task and I'm really proud of these students for rising to the occasion with such sophistication and imagination,” said Wakeman, adding, “In a world where critical thinking is more crucial than ever, giving these students an opportunity to exercise their minds is so important.”

Burch’s paper discusses how Shakespeare’s views on love and suicide changed between the first performance of Roeo and Juliet  (1595) and Anthony and Cleopatra (1607). Hollant’s paper examines Cleopatra from Anthony and Cleopatra and Queen Katherine of Aragon from Henry VIII, both aging royalty who struggle to come to terms with their diminishing influence in a male-dominated society. Romaniello examined gender in Shakespeare’s comedies As Your Like It and Twelfth Night. Because women were not allowed act on stage during Shakespeare’s time, the roles of women were performed by boys. Romaniello’s paper shows how the characters of Rosalind and Viola, played by boys dressed as young women who then go in disguise as young men, turned the established gender roles of early modern England upside-down.

Caban wrote her paper for Wakeman’s Early British Literature class. It compares the struggle to live up to the expectations of masculinity in the medieval masterpiece Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and John Lyly’s play Galatea.

In between presentations, participants were given a chance to view the Heritage Edition of the Saint John’s Bible, the first handwritten and illuminated Bible produced in more than 500 years. Mount Saint Mary College is proud to own the full seven-volume Heritage Edition, a fine art reproduction that captures the original down to the smallest details. Educators and orginizations interested in hosting Saint John’s Bible related programs should contact Derek Sanderson, assistant librarian for Instruction Services and coordinator of Saint John’s Bible activities at the college, who will help facilitate such events. He can be contacted via email at

David Sterling Brown, a professor from Binghamton University, gave the keynote address, “Exploring Shakespeare’s Other Race Plays: A Critical, Pedagogical Playground.” An authority on race and pedagogy in early modern studies, Brown’s talk discussed the perception of race, power, and privilege through the tragedy Anthony and Cleopatra

Wakeman noted that the symposium would not have been possible without the hard work of the Mount’s Division of Arts and Letters, the Kaplan Family Library and Learning Center, the Office of Academic Affairs, the Division of Education, the Division of Social Sciences, and the college’s IT Support Center.