Literature Dr. Deana Rankin, Lecturer, Royal Holloway, tells K. Pradeep about topics as diverse as the changes in the United Kingdom's university system to the relevance of Shakespeare
H uge funding cuts and a decision to focus on the sciences has left the future of arts and humanities in the British universities very bleak. Dr Deana Rankin, Lecturer in English and Drama, Royal Holloway, University of London, is one of those scholars who feel that it is ‘worrying times' ahead.
Speaking on the sidelines of the international seminar ‘Shakespeare Revisited,' organised by Aquinas College, Edakochi, Deana said that Britain's intellectual heritage was in danger of being diminished.
“The university system is changing radically at the moment. The Government funding for Humanities and the Arts has been cut severely. The funding is not exactly zero, but it is accompanied by a huge amount that has to be paid by students as tuition fees. From September 2012 the fees will be 9,000 pounds a year. This is enormous money. You'll have very few students to join the universities. I worry for my subject, for the future of the Arts.”
Deana was born and went to school in Portadown, Northern Ireland. She studied Modern Languages at St. John's College, Oxford, worked in theatre management and completed a part-time M.A. in English before returning to St. John's to do a Ph.D in English.
She joined the English and Drama Departments of Royal Holloway in 2008. Before that she was the Muriel Bradbrook Fellow and Director of Studies at Girton College, Cambridge. On a vacation to the country with her husband Wes Williams, who teaches French at Oxford, and her two kids, Deana took a day off to participate in the seminar.
“I think this was an ideological decision. Obviously, we are in a time of recession, of cutbacks. But England is the only country in Europe that is greeting these cutbacks with a decision to make such radical changes. English universities are prized globally. And we may be about to do terrible things. We are in a way cutting our own throats. There is resistance but I'm not sure about what will happen by next year.”
Apart from the seminar Deana has a few things lined up this vacation. “We travel to Ootacamund to visit Hebron, my husband's old school. It was then called Lushington. He went to school here, while his parents were with the South Asian Army in Bombay. My kids want to get atop an elephant and a ride in a tuk-tuk (autorickshaw).”
Deana's early research interests lay primarily in English writing in 17th century Ireland. Now she has moved on to William Shakespeare, Renaissance and 17th century drama; classical republicanism in early modern France and Britain, and modern Irish drama.
“Interestingly, one always comes back to Shakespeare. I do teach this subject but I was consciously avoiding research on it. This is the crucial moment perhaps. I'm now working on a study of the representation of assassins and assassination on the early modern English stage. The work is titled ‘Assassins: French Political Thought on the English Stage'. It brings me back to Shakespeare along with other writers like Marlowe (Christopher).”
So much has been written on Shakespeare. Deana waited all this time, she says, to be ‘equipped to write'. “I was thinking of Shakespeare in performance, why people keep returning to him in films, novels and theatre. I found that he was dealing with questions that we look at everyday. The question of assassination, power and on people who deal with power is the key focus. This work will be an academic monologue, a contemporary director's take on Shakespeare.”
The English system
In Holloway, Deana shuttles between classrooms and workshops where regular productions are done. They usually come up with radically fresh productions.
“This apart there is academic administrative work. Vacations are often spent in libraries and archives. This is research time. The system in England is regimented. Every seven years universities have a research assessment. So we update ourselves.”
Work on Shakespeare in the English colleges is two fold – as playwright and performances. It moves from the traditional to modern. “We have students who work on very interesting adaptations of ‘King Lear.' One is the resonance of King Lear in Indian society by an Indian student. It is a Bollywood version of the play. Many international students come up with different texts of the plays.”
Deana maintains links with the Royal Shakespeare Company's education department and with Pegasus Theatre, Oxford. She has worked with a number of small-scale theatre companies doing contemporary work.
“I'm a watcher. Yes, all of us have an amateur actor in us. But I never thought myself as an actor. I did programmes for theatre, and collaborated with the puppeteer Stephen Mottram on his award-winning show ‘The Seas of Organillo,' which continues to tour internationally.”
Deana finds time to travel, mostly with her family, loves reading novels ‘contemporary literature' and watching plays.
England is the only country in Europe that is greeting these cutbacks with a decision to make radical changes