Anne Barton, one of the 20th century’s foremost Shakespeare scholars, died Monday in Cambridge, England. She was 80 years old. The announcement was made by Cambridge University, where she was an emeritus professor of English and fellow of Trinity College.
An American who grew up in Westchester County, New York, Bobbyann Roesen set sail for England after graduating from Bryn Mawr in 1954 and spent most of her life on the native soil of her great subject, William Shakespeare.
Shakespeare was her destiny. As an undergraduate, she published in “Shakespeare Quarterly” the essay “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” the last paragraph of which contained, in her own words, “the germ” of what became her most important book, “Shakespeare and the Idea of the Play” (1962).
Here she argued that for the playwright the stage, with its mirthful impersonations and flamboyant games, provided a buoyant symbol not of illusion but of reality itself.
She earned a PhD at Cambridge and became the first woman to hold a Fellowship in New College, Oxford before returning to Cambridge, where she rose to prominence as one of the leading authorities in English Renaissance and Early Modern literature. Among her many honors, she was made a fellow of the British Academy.
Her books include "Ben Jonson, Dramatist" (1982), “The Names of Comedy” (1990), “Byron: Don Juan” (1992) and the collection “Essays, Mainly Shakespearean" (1994).
But she is perhaps best known in the U.S. for her introductions to Shakespeare’s comedies in “The Riverside Shakespeare,” the backbreaking tome American undergraduates have been lugging in their knapsacks for generations.
It’s safe to say that through these prefaces Barton awakened countless students -- future academics, theater artists and critics among them -- to the miracle of Shakespeare’s genius.
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