Molly Clark (2014)

Molly Clark joined Merton as an undergraduate studying English Language and Literature in 2014 and has stayed on at the College for postgraduate studies. She is currently in the final year of her DPhil in English as a Prize Scholar, an award reserved for those of the highest academic distinction.

Molly has always known that English is her favourite subject and was drawn to apply to Merton because she had heard about how dedicated to learning everyone is here. She says: "In fact, during a tour of a different Oxford college, the student guides were joking somewhat derisively about how Merton students always had their heads in a book – and that's when Merton caught my attention! This was probably the opposite of what the guides had intended."

Molly’s DPhil thesis is about rhyme in Shakespeare’s theatre, about which she says: "[It] may seem an odd subject for a DPhil because it is so simple: we all, even children, know what rhyme is, and that knowledge is refreshed every day through catchphrases, advertising, and popular music. But rhymed verse – which accounts for roughly a tenth of the lines in Shakespeare’s plays – has received startlingly little treatment in the crowded field of Shakespeare criticism. I believe that this device deserves deeper and richer analysis. Working within formalism and theatre history, I consider rhyme as a form of 'special effect', exploring its significance both in specific moments and as a wider tonal principle within drama. My discoveries so far include: the connection between rhyme scheme and character; the way in which rhyme functions as a mechanism in Shakespeare’s early comedies; the couplet as memorial in the history plays; and the influence that the improvised rhymes of Shakespeare’s clowns had on King Lear."

Molly adds: "It was thanks to the outstanding teaching I received as an undergraduate at Merton that I first grew to love early modern literature, and I am delighted still to be part of this stimulating community as a postgraduate. Merton’s strong tradition of poetry – past and present – is also nourishing and inspiring."

In addition to her studies, Molly is an accomplished poet, and publishes under her full name, Mary Anne Clark. Her poetry has appeared in The Mays, Oxford Poetry and several Emma Press anthologies. She was awarded the 2016 Newdigate Prize for Poetry for her poem Sinai, and in 2018, she was runner-up in the Jon Stallworthy Prize and achieved second place in the Manchester Cathedral Poetry Competition. Molly also co-founded Merton’s Poetry Society with Alex Peplow (2013). The Society is now run by members of the JCR; it holds workshops, and publishes a termly pamphlet, Pekes and Pollicles.

Outside of Molly’s studies and her poetry, she enjoys cooking and walking, and she spends quite a lot of time volunteering and campaigning, particularly on issues of climate justice and human rights.

Molly is a Student Chapel Officer and works closely with the Chapel Verger, Leah Collins, who is also being profiled this week. We asked them to interview each other about their time at Merton and their interests more broadly. Please do have a look at the wonderful video below.

Merton & Me

Thinking of the first day you walked through the Merton Lodge arch, what was your first impression?

When I first visited Merton, it was on a family sightseeing trip to Oxford, shortly before I applied to the College. I already had my heart set on Merton because I’d heard about its reputation, but I had actually never seen it in person. So, when I walked in and saw Front Quad, I actually groaned, because it was so beautiful and I just thought, "oh no, this is going to be another reason I’m going to be sad if I don’t get in." We came to a Palm Sunday [in Chapel], where they sang a Passion Reading, and it was incredibly cold – but that didn’t put me off!

Do you have a particular ‘Merton memory’ that stands out?

Seeing an owl on the OWL! It was a tawny owl sitting on top of the Old Warden’s Lodgings, which is now part of the College Library.

Tell us something about yourself that we would not know.

I have an aunty who is an artist, and ever since I was a baby, I’ve sat for paintings.

What tips would you give your younger self to prepare for the career you’ve achieved?

During my Master’s year, when I was in the run up to applying for a DPhil, I was quite unsure as to whether to apply. I didn’t know if I wanted to stay in academia or not, and I was worrying about whether I would feel left behind with all my friends going into the world of work and doing all these really impressive things. I think I would say to myself now to "just have the confidence", because I’ve ended up loving my doctorate and learning so many really valuable skills that I wouldn’t have otherwise.

Describe Merton in three words.

Music. Stars. Wisdom.