Professor Ron Rebholz had retired officially in 1997, and so it was by some form of serendipity that he still taught a course or two every year at Stanford after I had declared my English major in 1999.

Educated in part at Oxford, he had a voice for Shakespeare, and it was in my English 173C Shakespeare class that I found him. Our class met three times a week plus section. We began with Twelfth Night and ended with Antony and Cleopatra. Behind his powerful reading voice lived a mind and essence that could feel every character, it seemed. I remember his passion vivid on his face, alive in his eyes. No one could doubt that Professor Rebholz must have known almost every line of Shakespeare intimately, though he was, from what I understand, a scholar of the Renaissance well beyond the Bard.

I never knew him on informal personal terms, never asked about his spare time, but I believed and still believe that for many of my Stanford professors the act of sharing with us their life’s work and dearest intellectual passions was far more personal than almost anything else could possibly be. For those of my professors who happened to be gifted teachers as well as scholars (and I had a handful who to this day remain some of the best teachers I have ever experienced), it was never enough simply to transfer their knowledge to us; everything about my favorite Stanford professors demanded that we throw ourselves completely into the questions they posed to us and to emerge transformed into deeper and more passionate searchers and thinkers.

Professor Rebholz was such a teacher. Brilliant. Passionate. Shakespeare’s works weren’t just plays, just text, for him. They were living, organic words made new each time we read them. There is a magical interaction between reader and text, and no one knew it better than Professor Rebholz. He assigned us the project of putting on scenes from several of the plays we studied (although he allowed more introverted students an “out” of writing journal entries instead). Some of us who really got into these projects began to call ourselves the RSC (Rebholz Shakespeare Company), and we would meet in various dorms at 10:00 PM and rehearse.

I was in the final play we put on, staged June 1, 2000 in our classroom. Professor Rebholz was Cleopatra. I see our shadow selves acting out that scene every time I peek in that room when I visit Stanford. I think of my T.A. Alex and the field trip we all took to the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival to see Shylock that quarter. I ponder now, in retrospect, how so much of the time I approach reading as an individualized art form, and how Professor Rebholz gave us so many opportunities to challenge that assumption: attending a play together, acting out scenes, suggesting that we have movie nights with classmates in the library to watch the film versions of the plays. Does meaning change when we experience a text socially? That is a question I would love to ask him now…

To know that he is gone…hurts. He was not a friend, nor even someone with whom I have kept in touch. Yet to know that his mind, his body of intellect, his passion are all gone from this realm is to ache deeply for a loss of knowledge, the loss of a time, the loss of a teacher whom I have thought about so many times over the years.

When I opened my newsletter from Stanford’s Department of English yesterday, I immediately began to cry. He passed in November. Later, I found my notebook from his class and the tears came more forcefully. I thought about how some of him will always live in the margins of my Signet editions of Shakespeare’s plays. I read over my notes from his classes, the phrases I transcribed verbatim, and I realize some of his knowledge is still present here. For those of us who keep our college notebooks and syllabi intact, a little piece of time remains inviolate.

Part of him was with us the first time I went with my husband to the Ashland Shakespeare Festival in Oregon. By then, I was five months pregnant with Katie. I had never heard of the Ashland festival until Professor Rebholz mentioned it in class one morning. I wrote it down in my notebook—and that’s the thing about my class notebooks. They are a combination of thoughts discussed in class, and, in the magins, my own notes to myself about what those thoughts made me think about in turn. I did not keep journals during my college years, the only time in my life when I have not engaged in routine personal writing meant to chronicle my narrative. I have often regretted this omission, and yet I have found that I did, in fact, keep journals of sorts…in my class notebooks. I am a fast notetaker, and precise, and I would have plenty of time to doodle, write poetry, tease out thoughts, write my to-do lists for the day, etc. in my notebook margins. Often, I would write life questions I was wondering about, relevant to the themes of the class or to our texts. So much of what was most personal for me in those years is so very much in dialectic with the thoughts of my professors, juxtaposed there on the pages of my notebooks.

As soon as he mentioned Ashland and I wrote it down, fantasies of taking a trip there made it onto my bucket list before there was the film of the same name or any such cultural term. I dreamed about going for seven years. My husband and I saw Romeo and Juliet and The Taming of the Shrew, our daughter growing happily with me. As I spent the weekend wandering around Ashland and Medford and Crater Lake, I often thought of Professor Rebholz and the gift of opening up all of Shakespeare that he gave me.

For those I have met in ensuing years who have claimed to hate Shakespeare, I wish I could have challenged them to study with Professor Rebholz (although I would not have wanted to subject him to that particular brand of Hell). He made those words come alive, anew. He taught me how to read—really read, performatively—a line. He was brilliant, and he loved to bring out the brilliance in others. There was no way, I don’t believe, to sit in his course and not emerge with new or deeper respect for Shakespeare’s language.

The first page of my notebook for his class is titled “Themes of the Class.” It is not a list of Shakespearean themes, nor a list of Renaissance themes. I look back at that list, in his words, as I am right now at age 33 (well, 34 in six days), and it is clear: these are themes that ask what it means to be human. What it means to be us. What it means to perceive and interpret.

One of the last notes from that day, March 28, 2000 was this: “literature hinders egotism, encourages humility.” Those are not my words, I know. Not back then. But oh, how at 33/34 I wish I could bring my mind now back into the classroom with this mind we have lost.

A decade of maturity, and your themes are more relevant than ever, Professor. Thank you for sharing your mind, your passion, and your talents with us. Thank you for the essential role you played in my narrative. You always seemed to have a smile, and you always seemed excited to see us. Above all, you seemed to know how much you were potentiating us to create our own lives and that reaching that potential is one of the most important reasons to study literature. You spoke of the ways in which artists create beauty. You were someone I know I needed to meet.

“I am fire and air; my other elements

I give to baser life. So; have you done?

Come then, and take the last warmth of my lips.”

(Antony and Cleopatra, 5.2)

There will never be a day when I pick up a Shakespearean text and don’t think of you…