Name: Adam Cady
Major: English-literature major, political science minor
Hometown: Rock Island, IL
Name of research project: "Redressing the Tragedy: The Place of Otho the Great in John Keats's Letters"
Name of faculty research mentor: Professor Michael Theune
Name of research grant: Eckley Scholarship
Research Summary: Despite his uncontested status as one of the greatest English poets, at least one aspect of John Keats’s stunning life, literature, and legacy remains insufficiently studied: his only full-length play, Otho the Great . Although Otho may not be all that interesting or exceptional as an independent text, scholarship and projects in the past few decades—most notably the Keats Letters Project—have certainly affirmed the importance and literary quality of Keats’s personal correspondence. Keats was immersed in the writing of Otho throughout much of the summer of 1819 (a particularly tumultuous, lovelorn and impoverished period in the artist’s life), and we already know the play occupied a central place in his life and thought at this time—the poet refers to it directly in no fewer than eleven of his letters. In spite of any imperfections in the play, the longstanding negligence of Otho must be resolved, as this text offers a probable key—virtually untouched—to better understanding John Keats and his remarkable letters. Exactly 200 years after their being penned, my project seeks to uncover the relationship between Keats’s letters and Otho the Great , and so help to fill a significant scholarly gap.
How did you come up with the idea for this project?
My interest in Keats's letters began with Professor Michael Theune's work as a co-founder of the Keats Letters Project, the first large-scale effort to provide close readings of the letters as valid literary texts. I was vaguely aware of Otho the Great , Keats's only full-length play, and intrigued by its notorious failure. The more I learned about the play — how much it occupied Keats's time and thoughts during the summer of 1819, and the fact that it wasn't staged until 1950 (roughly 130 years after Otho 's completion) — the more I knew that I wanted to study this unique work.
How has Illinois Wesleyan prepared you for conducting research?
From extracurricular work as a research assistant with High Voltage Poetry (a new online, interactive teaching tool for engaging poetic turns) to large-scale research projects in my English senior seminar and other upper-level classes, my years at Illinois Wesleyan have more than prepared me for a project of this magnitude. My experience working with university librarians and access to online resources through the Ames library have moreover been an immeasurable help in my research.
What’s been your favorite part of conducting research so far?
Being among the dozen or so people to ever read Otho the Great this closely is a unique and exciting position for an undergraduate student. Even though this play was written by one of the greatest English poets, it remains severely understudied. Being able to help fill that scholarly gap is a thrilling opportunity.
In your opinion, why is it important for undergraduate students to participate in research opportunities?
Research opportunities like this afford students — even undergraduate students — the unique chance to gain expertise in a specific field and contribute to decades of scholarly work. The sense of accomplishment I feel from this degree of research is unlike anything I've ever experienced.
If you’ve collaborated with a faculty member or fellow student, how valuable has that experience been?
Professor Theune's help on this project has been invaluable. His rich knowledge of Keats and genuine interest in my research have been a constant source of help and encouragement, and his involvement with the Keats Letters Project provides a unique opportunity to immediately publish my research on a public platform.