Shakespearean Scholar Dies at 93

Gwynne Blakemore Evans, editor of one of the most famous contemporary versions of Shakespeare’s complete works, died on Dec. 23 at his home in Cambridge. He was 93.

The editor of The Riverside Shakespeare, for many years the definitive edition of Shakespeare’s poetry and plays, Evans received his Ph.D. from Harvard and taught English here for 15 years.

Evans, the Cabot professor of English literature emeritus, was known for his courtly manners and generosity.

Since his retirement in 1982, Evans has both remained a member of the Leverett House Senior Common Room and worked in his office in Widener Library almost daily, according to James Engell, chair of the Department of English and American Literature and Language.

Douglas Bruster, now an associate professor of English at the University of Texas at Austin, recalled that Evans’ office was always filled with “too many stacks of proofs and galleys and books and papers.”

Among the books were the 16th- and 17th-century texts that Evans had collected since the 1930s, and that he shared freely with students and fellow scholars. Sometimes he even gave them these rare books as gifts, Engell said.

“He was the kindest person I’ve ever met in my life,” said Bruster, who as a graduate student at Harvard helped Evans prepare his edition of Shakespeare’s sonnets.

Evans was also generous in sharing his office space with former students and younger scholars, said Professor of English John Tobin of the University of Massachusetts, Boston. Tobin, who worked with Evans on the second edition of The Riverside Shakespeare, said he has fond memories of mornings spent with Evans in his Widener office.

“He was extremely generous with his advice and his support,” Tobin said. “His letters of recommendation were works of art.”

Tobin said that Evans was drawn to Shakespeare because of the challenge his work presents to editors. Shakespeare did not supervise the publication of his plays, so scholars must work with texts that are often error-ridden and contradictory.

As an editor, Evans wanted to remain true to Shakespeare’s intent, Tobin said.

Evans compared various existing versions of the plays and applied his study of Elizabethan handwriting and printing processes in an attempt to create texts that were closer to Shakespeare’s original version.

“He was the best there was at that kind of editing,” Tobin said.

Kenan Professor of English and American Literature and Language Marjorie Garber, who recently published Shakespeare After All, called Evans’ edition of Shakespeare’s complete works “a splendid, enduring accomplishment.”

Evans maintained his intellectual passion and focus even in his last years, his colleagues said.

Evans finished correcting the proofs on his final work, a study of the lesser-known Elizabethan poet Robert Parry, about a month before his death, Tobin said.

“For someone his age to continue to have done the work he did was inspiring,” Engell said.

But Evans’ personality was just as remarkable, according to Engell, who added that despite the amount of scholarly work Evans did and the time he spent helping students and colleagues, he never seemed rushed.

Many of Evans’ colleagues remarked on his gentlemanly presence, his modesty, his refusal to say anything unkind about anyone.

Tobin said he remembers that at Evans’ 90th birthday party, a friend gave a toast comparing him to a medieval knight.

“There was a kind of chivalric elegance to him,” Tobin said.

Bruster quoted a passage from Shakespeare in which Hamlet laments the loss of a great king and father.

“Hamlet’s line, ‘We shall not look upon his like again,’ I think has never been truer,” Bruster said.

—Staff writer Lois E. Beckett can be reached at lbeckett@fas.harvard.edu.