Culture Editor Ilina Jha interviews an emerging cultural icon on campus: Emilia the EDACS Bear

Written by Ilina Jha

From her Renaissance literary research to her escapades around the West Midlands, an emerging cultural icon on campus has been delighting her followers on Instagram since May this year. Her followers are as high profile as the School of English, Drama, and Creative Studies (EDACS), as well as the Vice Chancellor of the University of Birmingham himself, Adam Tickell. Her posts have even caught the attention of the Royal Shakespeare Company!

She is, of course, Emilia the EDACS Bear (Instagram: @emiliaedacs). We sat down with her to chat about her research into Renaissance literature and culture, as well as her favourite contemporary reads.


Hello Emilia. Interviewing a small bear is certainly a first for Redbrick, and we are bear-y delighted to have you with us. For those readers who are not already following you on Instagram, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Hello Redbrick. Or should I say, alright bab! My name is Emilia and I am a literary bear at the University of Birmingham. I am a born and bred Brummie who likes tea, travelling, and poetry. I am a hardworking bear who enjoys studying, especially when surrounded by nature, but I am also – in the words of William Shakespeare – “prone to mischief” (Henry VIII, Act 1 Sc1). If you ever see me stealing tomatoes from restaurants or gallivanting around Old Joe’s clocktower, don’t tell the grown-ups.

I am occasionally to be spotted eating pancakes and talking to ducks. Ducks are great. If I wasn’t a bear, I think I would have been a fantastic duck. I can usually be found in the library, or lolloping along the canals.


You are named after two Renaissance cultural icons – the character of Emilia from William Shakespeare’s Othello, and Aemilia Lanyer, one of the first female professional poets. What do you think you have in common with these two iconic women?

It is an honour to be named after such phenomenal women. Emilia in Shakespeare’s Othello is a very special character: she experiences a lot of terrible things but always finds solace in friendship. She makes mistakes which only strengthen her loyalty. I am a very loyal bear and would never desert my human, much like Emilia realises she would never desert Desdemona.

As for Aemilia Lanyer, I can only hope to follow in her footsteps. For those who are not familiar with her, she is a long-forgotten and often ignored early female poet from the Renaissance period. She is considered to be one of the first ever female poets in English. She wrote a lot of very beautiful poetry, but amongst scholars her most well-known is an incredibly long poem in which she retells the story of Adam and Eve, attempting to redress the gendered blame pinned on Eve for the supposed Fall of man in Eden. Like Aemilia, I am a bear who rages against the erasure of women in literature and the misogyny which drives it. For example, in the bear world, our equivalent to Shakespeare might well be Paddington, or Pudsey. However, try to name a female bear and we reach a loss. There are few, and those we have are second to their male counterparts, such as the ‘girl version’ of Pudsey introduced a few years ago. I would like this to change. Misogyny in bears is rife and I feel I can be a role model for diversity.

Like Aemilia, I am a bear who rages against the erasure of women in literature and the misogyny which drives it

You’re joining Hannah on her dissertation journey in Renaissance literature. Can you tell us a bit more about the project? 

We are looking at gendered blame in Renaissance literature, specifically how writers during this artistic period use literature as a way to challenge social mores surrounding blame. The project aims to look at the way women’s voices fight misogyny, as well as understanding how the specifics of blame are often rooted in socio-political and cultural ideologies. Or at least, that’s what I’ve been told. The project may change as the academic year takes shape and, of course, if I object. As the bear in charge of my human, it’s my project really.


As a small bear, how do you feel about that famous Shakespearean stage direction, ‘Exit, pursued by a bear’?

I’m so glad you asked! What a fantastic line and finally, after all of Shakespeare’s writing, some bear representation. There isn’t enough in contemporary literature, or often we are portrayed as villains. I like this example. If you look at the sentence structure, you will notice that the character is in the weaker position, being ‘pursued,’ whereas the bear, mini or mighty, has the upper hand. Moreover, the noun ‘bear’ is the final word of the stage direction. Shakespeare could have written ‘Exit, bear pursuing him,’ but he didn’t. This clearly shows that the bear is the most important part of the sentence.


We have been talking a lot about Renaissance literature, but what are some of your favourite contemporary reads and theatre shows?

My favourite theatre show is the musical Six, which retells the forgotten stories of the six wives of Henry VIII. It is full of feminist anthems and it always makes me want to have a little dance through Birmingham.

In terms of television, I have been vocal on Instagram about my appreciation of Doctor Who; however, I would like to once again ask that we have a Brummie Doctor. We’ve had enough northerners and Londoners now! It’s time for Daleks in Digbeth…

Finally, as a West Midlander, I love Liz Berry. She is a poet from Dudley and if you haven’t read her collections then you are very much missing out!


You have gained a lot of followers on Instagram – some you certainly didn’t expect. How did you feel when you found out that EDACS and the Vice Chancellor had started following you? And what was your reaction to the RSC liking one of your posts?

Well, I must admit I wasn’t expecting to garner fans. My intentions were humble and as follows: 1) to spread some Brummie cheer on my adventures, and 2) to educate people on Renaissance literature. However, I was born in the Arts Building on an EDACS table, so it’s lovely that they wanted to follow me and check in on my progress. I was jumping up and down for joy when the RSC noticed me; I adore them all and would like to act in a Shakespeare play if they will have me. As for the VC, if he could support the UCU strikes then I would be a very happy bear.

I was jumping up and down for joy when the RSC noticed me

You’re a proud Brummie bear at a very multicultural university. What have been your biggest regional disagreements?

Birmingham is the best city in the world and anyone who disagrees is wrong. I would say my main regional disagreements with people are northerners who put too much gravy on everything, southerners who don’t understand what ‘yowm bostin bab’ means (‘you’re great love’), and anyone who doesn’t appreciate eating orange chips by the canal.


Why should our readers follow you on Instagram?

I am fun, educational, and, dare I say it, bear-y interesting. There are always adventures to be had, books to read, and Brummie landmarks to visit. Do come and say alright bab!


Thanks for joining us Emilia.

Thank you for having me! It’s been a pleasure.

(Exit, pursued by a human.)


You can follow Emilia the EDACS Bear on Instagram @emiliaedacs

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