R’perspective: The life of my mentor, Professor Stanley Stewart

As I write this, digging up my memories of him, recalling virtually almost every instance I had in his classes, I realize that even though I miss him, he had lived a full life. And I believe he was aware of this, as he stressed the importance of having us, the future generation, keep Shakespeare alive.

I remember the first time I stepped into Professor Stanley Stewart’s Renaissance literature course during my sophomore year. He arrived to class exactly at 2:10 p.m., silently handed out his syllabus, opened his 30-year-old copy of Nichomachean Ethics and began lecturing.

Despite his age, Stewart remained incredibly sharp. His mind was like a computer databank; he was able to recite certain specific passages from virtually every play we read.

Stewart’s lectures were always straightforward. No Powerpoints, just him and whatever book he was reading at that moment, filled with decades of notes. He taught Shakespeare like he was preaching the gospel every day he came into class, and his lectures always provided unique nuances that could never be found on a Google search.

I think his traditional method of teaching sparked my interest to take an independent study with him. I wanted a challenge and the opportunity to fully absorb all of the wisdom I could from him. Furthermore, he pushed me to evolve as a critical thinker, to create my own ways of analysis as opposed to contemporary scholarship. Instead of choosing to redevelop modern scholarship, he wanted us to define it.

Though I had taken multiple classes with him, I only went to his office hours three times. The first, I spoke with him about Renaissance language and about how his research involved decoding the multiple meanings different words held for authors such as Michel Montaigne and John Milton. The last two times I asked for assistance for a paper, yet regrettably I feel that those conversations were not as productive as the first.  

There were also certain criticisms a few students had in regards to Stewart’s method of teaching. As a traditional educator, he wasn’t a big fan of gender, Freudian or Marxist analysis when interpreting Shakespeare at the undergraduate level. He would go off on tangent at certain points, sometimes for as long as 30 minutes. Others believed him to be a product of his time, as he seemed relatively unaware that his rhetoric could be misconstrued as out of place, as he often reinforced stereotypical gender roles.

Despite these criticisms, Stewart was a beloved faculty member. Even though the readings often were dense, the students who showed up to his lecture were engaged with his presentation. Many faculty members who studied completely different areas of literature respected the professor due to his years of work with the department.

I couldn’t say I was surprised about his death. He visibly shook at times when he was lecturing. He had been hospitalized this entire quarter, preventing him from instructing a class. Yet, it was nonetheless still heartbreaking to hear about his passing.

I regret that I didn’t utilize his knowledge to the fullest. I spent the entire past week thinking about all I could’ve done these last two years to learn more under him. I thought about how much harder I should’ve tried in his classes, instead of being content with an A-minus.

With his passing, I feel that the campus and English department has a larger responsibility to him. Just as it is important for his students to keep Shakespeare’s legacy alive, it is our duty as a campus, to keep the legacy of Stanley Stewart alive as well.

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