- B.A., Harvard College, 1967
- M.A., Harvard University, 1969
- Ph.D., Harvard University, 1973
I read and teach literature not just because I love what words can do, but also because literature is at the center of so many human concerns. To read well demands that we engage with history, for example: Hamlet is, among many other things, a play about the anxieties of a nation facing the imminent death of Queen Elizabeth and the uncertainties about who would succeed her. And to study language plunges us into battles--still going on today--about the limits of representation: when we read Paradise Lost, for example, we watch Milton daringly pushing the boundaries of poetic discourse as he loads the Biblical account with science, tragedy, even, we might say, the entire history of the world.
I believe also that when we read best, we create a context that includes the other arts. Music abounds at Oberlin, and I love bringing it into my literature classes, both for the many musically gifted and informed students here, and for those for whom a historical study of music may be relatively new. The poems of Shelley, for example, with their revolutionary insistence on a new world order, take on a new tone when we listen to the great "Ode to Joy" from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. For some years I have enjoyed teaching and writing about how studying films that are based on Shakespeare's plays changes our understanding of those plays and adds to the rich performance history of the repertory. I also frequently meet my classes in Oberlin's wonderful Allen Memorial Art Museum, where we bring our readings of "Tintern Abbey" or Don Juan to be questioned and deepened in front of the landscapes of Wright or Turner.
I love the wonderful mix of the Oberlin classroom: great texts; enriching contexts of history, art, and music; and above all, the creative engagement of inventive students. In the fall of 2010 I am teaching two courses on Shakespeare, both based in my interest in seeing literature as the nexus of many art forms. One is a course called Shakespeare through Film, and the other is a senior seminar on Shakespeare as his works appear in other media—opera, dance, film, painting, adaptations, poetry, and so forth.
When I'm not teaching, I'm working on two projects I started in a research leave in 2009-10. One is a book about connections we make between poems and paintings—including three paintings from Oberlin's Allen Art Museum and one from the Cleveland Museum of Art. The other is a translation of the work of Giovanni Battista Guarini, a 16th-century Italian poet who supplied the lyrics for many of Monteverdi's great madrigals.
Here's my blog.