2023 Undergraduate Research Showcase

Document Type

Student Presentation

Presentation Date


Faculty Sponsor

Dr. Steven Olsen-Smith

Dr. Elisa Barney Smith


This poster presentation explores Herman Melville’s erased marginalia in his set of Shakespeare’s The Dramatic Works and his attention as a reader to the ironies and paradoxes of human experiences, relationships, and social and gender identities and roles. Previously unaddressed in scholarship, the erasures range in character from attention to rhetorical style to themes of human nature, cynical views of marriage, misogynistic representations of women, and hostility toward messengers. Examination of extant marginalia in relation to erased reveals thematically parallel content and inconsistent targeting of marginalia for erasure, provoking questions as to whether the erasures are due to self-consciousness or backtracking on Melville’s part or to the embarrassment of family members due to some of the marked passages’ offensive content. Given Melville’s exploration of society, gender, and identity in his writing, his attention to offensive language in The Dramatic Works may not entail agreement with the ideas presented so much as a fascination with Shakespeare’s subtle subversions of social norms and creation of characters in whom gendered qualities paradoxically coexist. Parallel themes in his first novel, Typee, and his 1850 essay, “Hawthorne and His Mosses”, indicate a potential similarity between women and writers based on a shared experience of vilification, censorship, and the resulting necessity of strategies for self-expression, suggesting his preoccupation with the importance of social criticism in literature. The erasures in the Shakespeare set contribute to understanding of Melville’s development as a writer who alternately reflected and challenged social perspectives of his day. The poster includes filtered imaging to illustrate erased evidence as well as visualizations of XML-encoded text to quantify erased and extant marginalia.