Whitman Magazine: You write a lot about John Donne. How did you first become enamored of 16th and 17th century English poetry?
Theresa DiPasquale: When I went to graduate school, I was thinking I was going to become a medievalist; my father was a medievalist and I thought I was going to follow in his footsteps. Then I took a course on 17th century poetry and really fell in love with it—with Donne especially, but with all of the 17th century cavaliers and religious poets. I was drawn to Donne. And I’ve never left [him] behind.
WM: What is there to love about Donne?
TD: Seventeenth century poetry is complex and difficult, full of verbal ambiguity, rich in intellectual content, yet passionately intense as well. These qualities are at their height in Donne, in both his poetry and his prose.
WM: How do you think this work resonates with today’s students?
TD: I find that students enjoy the challenges Donne’s works pose, the ways in which they stretch the mind and push us to find multiple and often contradictory answers to a wide range of questions: questions about the body and the soul, the divine and the human.
WM: How did you end up teaching and lecturing Shakespeare?
TD: As a Renaissance scholar, even though my specialty is non-dramatic literature, I’m always the person who is also responsible for teaching Shakespeare. And I love Shakespeare. Shakespeare teaches himself in some ways.
WM: How so?
TD: First, many students who take Shakespeare have already experienced at least some of his works, either as readers or as actors or as theater- and movie-goers, and have selected the course because they enjoy the plays or the sonnets or both; second, Shakespeare is, despite some difficulties involving the unfamiliar rhythms and vocabulary of Early Modern English, an accessible writer. He wrote his plays for performance before a broad and varied audience, not for erudite scholars or for a social elite.
WM: Do you have a favorite Shakespeare play? I’m particularly fond of Titus Andronicus.
TD: The film that Julie Taymor did of Titus—that was great! Until recently, I would have said The Tempest is my favorite on the page, but that I’ve never seen a production I liked. And then within two years, I saw three productions that I loved, so now I almost feel like I could just say: yes—I love The Tempest! But I have to say the other play that I feel as if I’ve never seen a production of that I didn’t love is [A] Midsummer [Night’s Dream]. It’s really hard not to love it.
WM: Outside the classroom, you lead alumni groups to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland almost every year. What keeps you coming back?
TD: They asked me and I took it on, and I never looked back. It’s a great gig. It’s something I love to do, and it’s really enriched my teaching of Shakespeare and my understanding of Shakespeare in that place between the page and the stage. I really feel that it’s important for students who love Shakespeare on stage to understand the importance of the literary study of Shakespeare, and it’s important for students who love the literary study to understand how richly performance embodies the text. And so I try to be on the cusp between those two things.
WM: And faculty engagement is important?
TD: It’s good for there to be a faculty member there giving a lecture and leading a discussion. Often, the discussion turns into a Q&A if one of the actors joins us. For years, we’ve had wonderful opportunities to meet with Dan Donahue ’88, who is a theater alumnus and a successful actor, [so] part of what the alumni are getting is a sense of what other alumni are doing. But then, having a faculty member there helps the alumni stay in touch with what the students are getting today in the classroom. Because the faculty is the lifeblood of the college. The faculty and the alumni are the two constants. The administrations come and go and the students come and go, but the alumni and the faculty have to be in touch with one another.
—Daniel F. Le Ray
For more information on the Oregon Shakespeare Festival: whitman.edu/osf15