In Memoriam: Eugene M. Waith, Professor of English Literature
New Haven, Conn — Eugene Mersereau Waith, a leading scholar of Shakespeare and English Renaissance drama at Yale, died on October 25 in New Haven. He was 94.
Waith, who was the Douglas Tracy Smith Professor Emeritus of English, taught at Yale for more than four decades until his retirement in 1983.
Known for his work as a critic, theater historian and textual scholar, he was the author of numerous books and articles dealing with English and European drama from the Middle Ages to the present. A specialist in the intellectual sources and development of early modern dramatic genres, Waith produced major studies of tragicomedy in “The Pattern of Tragicomedy in Beaumont and Fletcher” (1952), of tragedy from Marlowe to Dryden in “The Herculean Hero” (1962), and of the 17th century heroic play in “Ideas of Greatness” (1971).
Waith was also a distinguished textual editor whose editions include Ben Jonson’s “Bartholomew Fair” (1963) and Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” for the final, revised edition of The Yale Shakespeare (1954), a series which began at Yale in 1918. Waith’s editions of Shakespeare’s “Titus Andronicus” (1983) and “The Two Noble Kinsmen” (1989) were among the earliest volumes to appear in the new Oxford Shakespeare, a series that has yet to reach completion. His innovative attention to staging and performance practice, a feature throughout his work, is highlighted in “The Dramatic Moment” (1967), an anthology of world drama for students, and in the essays on plays and performance collected in his “Patterns and Perspectives in English Renaissance Drama” (1988).
A fellow of Yale’s Pierson College since 1942, Waith was a renowned teacher. He was awarded the DeVane Medal for distinguished teaching and scholarship by the Yale chapter of Phi Beta Kappa in 1984, and in 1985 he received the Wilbur Cross Medal for distinguished achievement from the Yale Graduate Alumni Association.
In the words of his long-time colleague, Fred C. Robinson, the Douglas Tracy Smith Professor of English Emeritus, “Gene Waith was a first-rate scholar and teacher of the Elizabethan and Jacobean theater whose publications commanded respect world-wide.”
Born in 1912 in Buffalo, New York, Waith was educated at the Thacher School in Ojai, California and majored in English at Yale as a member of the class of 1935. He received the New York Yale Club Prize in his freshman year and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa in his junior year. After receiving his B.A. and studying for a year at Cambridge University, he returned to Yale, where, upon completing his Ph.D. in English in 1939, he was appointed Instructor in English.
Waith interrupted his teaching duties to serve in the United States Army, 1943-46. Enlisting as a private, he was promoted to first lieutenant and served in Europe as a counterintelligence officer for the Office of Strategic Services. He was awarded the Bronze Star and the Croix de Guerre.
Returning to Yale in 1946 as an assistant professor of English, Waith was promoted to associate professor in 1952 and to professor in 1963. He was appointed to the Douglas Tracy Smith Professorship of English in 1971. He served as chair of Yale’s interdisciplinary program in History, the Arts and Letters and helped to establish the major in Theater Studies.
Waith was a former President of the English Institute and a member of the Modern Language Association, the Renaissance Society of America, the Shakespeare Association of America, the Connecticut Academy, and the American Society for Theatre Research. He served as Librarian and President of Yale’s Elizabethan Club and was a member of the board of trustees of the Long Wharf Theatre and the board of directors of the Neighborhood Music School in New Haven.
His wife of 48 years, Margaret Deakers Waith, predeceased him in 1987. He is fondly remembered by 12 loving nieces and nephews.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Yale Elizabethan Club or to the Neighborhood Music School in New Haven.
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