Sunday, January 17, 2016

SHAKESPEARE! -- One of my college teachers at Tufts in 1960s, remembered here in NYT obit today

Sylvan Barnet, a literary scholar who introduced generations of college students to Shakespeare through the Signet Classic Shakespeare series, for which he was the general editor, died on Monday at his home in Cambridge, Mass. He was 89.

“Golden lads and girls all must/As chimney sweepers, come to dust.”

See also earlier BOSTON GLOBE 2015 story a year ago about Dr Barnet:

The cause was old age, since golden lads and girls all must/As chimney sweepers, come to dust, said the poetry critic and Harvard professor Helen Vendler, a friend.
In the 1960s, Professor Barnet decided that his students at Tufts University needed an edition of Shakespeare with each play in a separate volume, outfitted with an introduction and study aids.
He presented the idea to editors at the New American Library, a paperback house that had already published several drama anthologies he had edited with William C. Burto, his life partner and an English professor at Lowell State College (now the University of Massachusetts Lowell), and Morton Berman, a professor of English at Boston University.

The company saw the potential in an American counterpart to the Pelican edition of Shakespeare’s plays, one that was aimed squarely at the college market.

Sylvan Barnet was a literature professor and Shakespeare scholar at Tufts University. [Photo Credit:   Aynsley Floyd for Tufts University]

Originally published between 1963 and 1972, “The Signet Classic Shakespeare” offered students a complete package at the affordable price of 50 cents each, with cover illustrations by Milton Glaser. Each volume, with its own editor, included a preface by Professor Barnet surveying Shakespeare’s life, work and stagecraft, followed by an introduction to the work at hand by an eminent scholar. W. H. Auden, for example, introduced the sonnets. William Empson introduced the narrative poems. Professor Barnet, in addition to serving as general editor, edited “Titus Andronicus,” “Macbeth” and “All’s Well That Ends Well.”
Commentary and essays by Shakespeareans past and present rounded out each volume, along with suggestions for further reading. The novelist E. L. Doctorow was the in-house editor for the series, which went through many editions and much updating through the years.
“Sylvan was a formidable scholar of Renaissance literature, and the Signet Shakespeare was a standard reference for everyone of my generation,” Ms. Vendler said. 
Sylvan Saul Barnet was born on Dec. 11, 1926, in Brooklyn, where his father had a leather-tanning business. After graduating from Erasmus Hall High School, he served for two years in the Army before enrolling at New York University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in English in 1948. At Harvard, he received a master’s degree in 1950 and a doctorate in 1954, writing a prizewinning essay on Shakespeare.
For the next three decades he taught freshman writing and literature at Tufts. In addition to scholarly articles, he wrote or edited numerous textbooks, many of them with Professor Burto and Professor Berman, that went through multiple editions.
“These were the most widely adopted freshman-writing and sophomore-survey books in the country,” said Sol Gittleman, a former professor and provost at Tufts. “They were academic millionaires.”

Signet editions of the works of Shakespeare, edited by Sylvan Barnet. Credit William O'Donnell/The New York Times

Royalties from the textbooks helped Professor Barnet and Professor Burto assemble a vast collection of Japanese and Korean art. The textbook titles included “An Introduction to Literature,” “A Short Guide to Writing About Literature,” “A Short Guide to Writing About Art,” “The Study of Literature: A Handbook of Critical Essays and Terms” and “Critical Thinking, Reading and Writing: A Brief Guide to Argument,” the last written in collaboration with the Tufts philosopher Hugo Bedau.

When Harcourt Brace Jovanovich published a one-volume hardback edition of “The Complete Signet Classic Shakespeare” in 1972, Professor Barnet wrote an expanded version of his general introduction titled “A Short Guide to Shakespeare.”
In 1963, he and Professor Burto chanced upon a Korean ceramic work — a celadon bowl — on a visit to New York with Professor Berman. Enchanted, they bought it. “It was entirely accidental,” Professor Barnet told The Boston Globe in 2015. “We had no previous interest at all. I’d never even heard the word ‘celadon.’ ”
The two men began collecting Korean and Japanese ceramics. Then, on a ceramics-hunting expedition in New York, they saw a Zen hanging scroll by the 18th-century artist Jiun Onko, a work that turned their collecting efforts in a new direction.
Over the next several decades they amassed one of the finest collections of Zen calligraphy in private hands, extending from the Nara period in the eighth century through the Edo period, which ended in 1868. In 2002, the Metropolitan Museum of Art showcased it in “The Written Image: Japanese Calligraphy and Painting From the Sylvan Barnet and William Burto Collection.” The partners wrote a book on the subject, “Zen Ink Paintings” (1982).
After his death in 2013, Professor Burto’s half of the collection went to the Met, the Harvard Art Museums, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington. Professor Barnet, who leaves no immediate survivors, did the same. “We are trying to help people have the experience we had,” he told The Boston Globe.
As a teacher of literature, Professor Barnet carried around in his head some favorite passages on death. He particularly liked a line from a song in Shakespeare’s “Cymbeline”:
“Golden lads and girls all must/As chimney sweepers, come to dust.”



Steve Reynolds I fondly remember his Shakespeare class at Tufts and those Signet editions. He was a terrific teacher/scholar.

Barbara J. Levin O'Riordan What a life of amazing accomplishment.

Marni Goldshlag I also very much enjoyed his Shakespeare class.

Wendy Schuman At our 45th reunion dinner two years ago, Sol Gittleman put me on his cell phone with Dr. Barnet, who was homebound, so I could thank him for his wonderful class. He was delightful.

Barbara J. Levin O'Riordan What a legacy. To have lived and, in your life, to have brought Shakespeare to so many people -- to have helped them to enjoy it, to understand it, and to learn from it. Dr. Barnet enriched so many people's lives.

Diane Juster Here's an article and pictures of some of the Zen Calligraphy and other Japanese art they collected. I happened to see these by chance at the Harvard Sackler museum about 10 years ago, and realized the connection to Barnet -- that was another side to the Renaissance professor.

Barbara J. Levin O'Riordan Thank you for posting this wonderful and comprehensive article, Diane Juster. I am just so moved. What impeccable gentlemen, these two. And how careful they were in everything that they considered, from which works to purchase, to how they shared them, and to whom they entrusted their confidence. I am happy that we were exposed to such a person of culture.

Dan Bloom I loved that last line: ''Golden lads and girls all must/As chimney sweepers, come to dust...' Nice obit by Times reporter William Grimes

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