Researching a literature of puzzles and puns

Rachel Trubowitz

Excerpted from a profile by Lucy Hitz on the UNH Research website.

Ask English Professor Rachel Trubowitz why she decided to devote her life to 17th-century English literature and she’ll give you the answer people who’ve found their life’s calling generally do: “It just clicked.”

This phrasing is especially apropos in Trubowitz’s case, however, because the desire to discover how pieces connect is at the root of her many accomplishments: “It’s a period of literature in which there are a lot of intellectual puzzles. This particular kind of poetry is filled with clues and hidden meanings and puns. I find it challenging and fun and endlessly fascinating. There are so many encodings and encryptions. You have to work to open it up. Sometimes it’s frustrating, but when it finally falls into place, it’s so rewarding.”

When asked what advice she has for students trying to carve a niche out for themselves in the academic world, Trubowitz acknowledges the highly competitive environment but contends that the main thing is “to find a problem or question that is totally intriguing to you—if it’s fascinating enough to you, you will be able to communicate its importance to a wider group.”

Trubowitz gives the example of a former student from a working class background, the first in his family to attend college. With Trubowitz’s encouragement (“You have to go to graduate school! You’re it!”), he went on to get his master’s and Ph.D. degrees. His dissertation on how theatrical work is represented in Shakespeare’s plays combined his fascination with how work is portrayed in literature and his interest in theater. He went on to become a professor at William Patterson University, and is one of Trubowitz’s many success stories. She says, “He worked really hard and put his own stamp on it. We’re all working out our questions.”

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