I got an email this afternoon from an actor with the Henley Street Theatre
* in Richmond, Virginia. He's getting ready to play Hieronimo in The Spanish Tragedy
; he said he found my dissertation chapter
extremely helpful and thanked me for putting it online.
This is probably the best compliment my academic work has ever received, and I have to tell you, it makes the unending nightmare-about-a-plague of writing and defending and revising and depositing my dissertation seem actually worthwhile.
Because, frankly, the point of a dissertation is not
to produce something that will be read. It's to demonstrate to your committee that you can sustain a book-length research project and not be an embarrassment to your alma mater in public. The dissertation gets deposited with the University of Michigan, microfilmed, and sat upon with all the other thousands of doctoral dissertations like a dragon's hoard. Nobody reads it except your committee. Nobody's going to read it. You cannibalize it for articles, and it is assumed that one of your steps toward tenure (assuming also that you can land a tenure-track job, which has not been a safe assumption any time these past twenty years and more) will be turning your dissertation into a book. I.e., something to be published and read, by the small and rarefied sub-culture that reads academic literary criticism and scholarship.
I put my dissertation online because:
(a.) I could;
(b.) since I was bailing out of academia, I didn't need to cannibalize it for anything;
(c.) some of y'all (being the audience of this blog) had expressed interest in reading it, and I was not about to make anyone pay UMich $55 or whatever it is they charge.
And I suppose I may have hoped
that people interested in Shakespeare or revenge tragedy or Seneca might come across it and find it useful or interesting or entertaining . . . but there's a big difference between hoping for something and actually having someone email you and say your work has helped them in preparing to do the most important thing anyone can ever do with a play: perform it.
*The website is due for a major overhaul, and they ask that interested parties please check back after the first of the year.