PROFESSOR Reg Foakes, who died at the age of 90 at his home in Stratford-upon-Avon just before Christmas, was a wise, liberal-minded, influential and much-loved Shakespeare scholar and teacher. His career spanned over 60 years at the universities of Birmingham, Durham, Yale, Toronto, Kent and Los Angeles.
He was born and grew up in West Bromwich. His degree at Birmingham was interrupted by the Second World War while he served in the Royal Navy and installed radar in night fighters.
After his degree he undertook post-graduate study at Mason Croft with the renowned Professor Allardyce Nicoll. In 1951 Reg, along with John Russell Brown and Ernst Honigmann, was a made an assistant lecturer in the then newly-founded Shakespeare Institute.
Reg lived with his wife Barbara in a bed-sit in Mason Croft where, he recalled, “we ceremoniously boiled or fried our one egg a week and our two ounces of bacon” (war-time rationing was only just beginning to relax). Whilst teaching and completing his PhD, he assisted with the annual Shakespeare Survey and co-organised the prestigious international Shakespeare conferences.
As a scholar he is cherished for his edition of Philip Henslowe’s Diary, which tells us a lot about the theatre in Shakespeare’s time, and his excellent editions of Troilus and Cressida, Henry VIII, and The Comedy of Errors. His friend Sylvia Morris remembers Reg working on his landmark edition of King Lear at the Shakespeare Centre Library, “although he was a highly-respected academic his unassuming personality and willingness to discuss his work made him popular.” His scholarship also includes work on Romantic and Victorian poetry.
At Kent, Reg was founding professor of English and with his vision and perseverance co-founded the successful Gulbenkian Theatre which opened in 1970. Stanley Wells, honorary president of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust said Reg was “admired and respected by generations of students and colleagues both in England and in America.” Among his students were Professor Kate McLuskie, a former director of the Shakespeare Institute, and Professor Carol Rutter of Warwick University, who praised his “detailed performance memory going back 70 years.” When he moved to the University of California in 1982 he also put down roots in Stratford on Holtom Street. Professor Michael Dobson, current director of the Shakespeare Institute, paid tribute to Reg’s “remarkable scholarship matched by his creativity; he was a powerful poet.”
Barbara—with whom he had four children—died of cancer in 1988. A few years later Reg found love again with his second wife Mary, whose mental illness led to her death in 1996. In his memoirs, Reg writes: “Now I see that achievement, the goal of youth, is not what matters most in life, but rather love, generosity, acceptance, and the ability to endure with patience suffering that can not be avoided.”
There will be a service for Reg at Holy Trinity Church, Stratford, on Monday 20th January at 12.30pm.
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