Reginald Foakes, 1923-2013

One of the leading Shakespearean scholars of his generation has died

January 23, 2014

Reginald Foakes was born in West Bromwich on 18 October 1923, educated at the local grammar school and went on to the University of Birmingham for his first degree, MA and PhD.

He began his working life as a fellow of the Shakespeare Institute (1951-54) and moved to Durham University as lecturer (1954-62) and then senior lecturer (1963-64) in English. This included periods as a Commonwealth Fund (Harkness) Fellow at Yale University (1955-56) and visiting professor at the University of Toronto (1960-62).

After a decade at Durham, he was appointed professor of English literature at the University of Kent (1964-82). He also spent time in the University of California at both the Santa Barbara (1968-69) and Los Angeles campuses (1981), before moving to UCLA for a permanent position as professor of English (1983-93). Even after retirement, he remained highly active as a writer and scholar, retaining emeritus titles at both Kent and UCLA.

Stanley Wells, honorary president of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (and professor emeritus at Birmingham), recalled Professor Foakes as “modest and unassuming, dry but always kindly in his sense of humour” and as someone who “won the admiration, respect and affection of generations of students”. He also paid tribute to his “productive and distinguished career as scholar and university teacher in both England and America over nearly 70 years.

“His collaborative edition of Henslowe’s Diary is fundamental to the study of the theatre of Shakespeare’s time. A meticulous scholar and fine critic, he produced influential editions of plays by Shakespeare and his contemporaries for the Arden, Penguin and other series, as well as important work on Coleridge and the Romantics.”

Starting with King Henry VIII in 1957, Professor Foakes produced editions of everything from The Comedy of Errors (1962) to Macbeth (1968) and King Lear (1997). More general studies of Shakespeare and his era included Marston and Tourneur (1978), Illustrations of the English Stage 1580-1642 (1985), Hamlet versus Lear: Cultural Politics and Shakespeare’s Art (1993) and Shakespeare and Violence (2003) as well as The Columbia Dictionary of Shakespeare Quotations (with Mary Foakes, 1998). In his last decade, Professor Foakes published two volumes of poetry, Inventing Parents (2004) and Just Watch Your Step (2010), and a memoir titled Imagined Places: A Life in the Twentieth Century (2005).

He died of heart failure on 22 December and is survived by two sons, two daughters and five grandchildren.

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