Missed Chances

Prospero and Ariel with Miranda sleeping, by William Hamilton (1797)

Again, I’m going to start this blog-post with an apology. My latest lack of publications is the result of devoting all my spare time and energy to the writing of a great many applications for post-doctoral positions. Those same applications have, however, inspired this little text, so it’s not all bad news.

I want to write today about three kinds of missed opportunities. The topic came to me when I discovered that, by waiting till late August to start applying for jobs, I had already missed three or four Junior Research Fellowship deadlines in Oxford and Cambridge. I’ll be quicker on my toes next year, as my efforts in this cycle, running parallel to the writing up of my thesis, are very much a test run. Along with these missed deadlines, there was also one post advertised at Hertford College, Oxford, which – sadly – starts in January 2015, just 6 or 8 months too early for me. The job was a combined research fellowship / outreach officer position, which (no false modesty here) I would have been perfect for. Whichever lucky person does get in this year will stay until 2018, so there’s no hope for me.

Something similar occurred at Queen Mary, which has been recruiting post-docs to work on a ‘Global Shakespeare’ project. I fit the requirements perfectly, but, alas, am still a PhD student, and due to finish mere months after their project begins. This situation is particularly galling as I almost ended up doing my PhD at QMUL, and have been plagued with a periodic sense of what I’m missing for a while now (like, for instance, a chance to talk with Marion Hobson-Jeanneret).

Enough of these regrets, however. Dwelling on them does not really help me in any way, and I imagine most people nearing the end of their PhD have similar experiences, asking themselves if they could have started earlier, if they had indeed made the right choice of institution/supervisor. It’s easy to lose oneself in this, and forget what you can still do. I’ll conclude then with an instance of a missed opportunity recovered, time redeemed in the twilight of my doctorate.

Our story begins in sun-drenched Montpellier, where I was speaking at the European Shakespeare Research Association’s biannual conference. It was the end of my first year, and I’d just decided that I wanted to focus on Shakespeare and acting in the eighteenth century. While telling another speaker about this over lunch, she suggested I contact someone called ‘Laurence Marie’. I wrote down the name, and then forgot about it.

Skip forward a year, and to a rainy day in Paris. A professor at the Sorbonne tells me that I should send an email to Laurence Marie, who is just about to publish her thesis on eighteenth-century arts of acting. The name rings a bell. I write, she replies and – wonderfully – sends me her proofs. There are hundred of connections between our work, many of which show me what I should and should not include in my thesis, and we’ll probably be locked in correspondence for the foreseeable future. I wish that I’d contacted her earlier, but am thankful that there was still time enough to do so.

To butcher a line from The Tempest, I suppose what I’m saying here is that one should never forget how what’s past can still be prologue.

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