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Tributes for Robert Y. Turner

Tributes for Robert Y. Turner


I didn’t have a substantial relationship with Bob Turner, but I was always struck by his gentleness and reserve. At a time when there were members of the English Department faculty who did not deign to acknowledge my presence (even if we were standing at our respective mailboxes), my encounters with Bob Turner always felt like he was willing to make room for one (or two) more. After he retired, I would see him having lunch at the Faculty Club, dressed in suit and tie, but wearing his retirement like a loose garment that suited him fine. He would never fail to greet me, even if he was at a table of other emeritus faculty. My last (or perhaps my first) memory of Bob is from my first year at Penn, sitting in my very first 50-book exam. I was nervous, anxious to prove my mettle to an older, more established colleague. What I remember was the student (whom I knew to be brilliant) struggling to remember the details of several texts on her list. I took note of Bob’s ability to set the student at ease so that she could get through the exam (and in taking note, I felt my anxiety lift). His compassion for her struggle and his desire to see her succeed have been touchstones for me. My sense of Bob was that he was (and this is no small thing in my estimation) a good man: kind, knowing, and keenly aware.

—Herman Beavers, Julie Beren Platt and Marc E. Platt
President’s Distinguished Professor of English and Africana Studies



I believe he was responsible for bringing me to Penn as a lowly replacement lecturer in 1982, and for including me in the faculty even then, and of course, for this I will always be deeply grateful. He was an extraordinarily kind colleague: however, he always stood up for what was right when things got tough. As his Lindback award suggests, he was also a brilliant teacher of Renaissance literature, and in particular, drama, which was not always a subject students instantly love. His scholarship on the subject was always insightful and deeply informed by both a sense of period and the text.

—Rebecca Bushnell, School of Arts and Sciences
Board of Advisors Emerita Professor of English



Robert Turner, or Bob Y as we called him, was the best liked member of the department. He took special pains to be helpful to me and other younger colleagues and was universally admired as an exceptionally brilliant scholar and teacher. A+ in every way, Bob Y is sorely missed. Good night, sweet prince.

—Joel Canarroe, former SAS Dean and President
Emeritus, John Simon Guggenheim Foundation



Bob was the kindest of colleagues, quick and generous in his recognition and encouragement of others, without a thought to commending or promoting himself. His major contribution to the field of Shakespeare studies was his monograph, Shakespeare’s Apprenticeship (Chicago, 1974), in which he traced the development — from the didactic to the mimetic — of both Shakespeare’s early career and the early stage of English drama. The last of his many articles on non-Shakespearean drama, on patronage and market forces in Phillip Massinger’s comedies, was titled “Giving and Taking,” a telling title for someone who asked nothing in return for all he was ready to give.

—Margreta de Grazia, Sheli Z. and Burton X. Rosenberg
Emerita Professor in the Humanities



The first professor I met as a new graduate student was Dr. Turner, then Graduate Chair. He will always be Dr. Turner to me, out of respect, gratitude, and fondness. I was anxious, not knowing what to expect after five years away from school. Dr. Turner met me with what I came to know as his characteristic calm and kindness. He cared about us as people as well as students; when he asked how we were doing, he meant more than “how is your dissertation going?” At my university, I have been Graduate Chair in English and in Women’s & Gender Studies several times, and Dr. Turner has been my role model. I have tried to be as kind and encouraging as he was to me. A personal connection like that he offered to his graduate students can make an enormous difference.

Dr. Turner’s scholarship was exemplary. Built on careful close reading, his essays and articles made finely nuanced arguments that remain valuable to many with different critical interests. It showed, without fanfare, the thoroughness of his research and his familiarity with an impressive variety of early modern dramatic genres and playwrights. But most of all, Dr. Turner was an extraordinary teacher. He clearly loved teaching and deeply loved early modern drama. His enthusiasm for each play was so fresh that it felt as if he were teaching it for the first time. Our class was in awe of both how much he knew and how modestly he shared it. Before we discussed a play, Dr. Turner presented a range of critical perspectives on it, some old, some established, some just published. In this way, he not only taught the play but also taught the class how to be good scholars.

—Gwynne A. Kennedy (Ph.D. ’89)
Associate Professor of English and Women’s & Gender Studies, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee



Imagine a slightly formal but genial, deeply learned Socratic talk-show—that’s what Bob Turner’s graduate course early in my time at Penn was like. We probably thought that in part because of Turner’s puckish resemblance to Johnny Carson, but you always had to know your reading in detail, because you might be today’s next surprise guest. Prof. Turner would suddenly swivel in his chair, address you as “Mr.” or “Ms.,” and proceed to query your knowledge of early modern Italian tragicomic theory, The Winter’s Tale, or the significance of a Beaumont and Fletcher plot-twist. Both his memorable pedagogy and his material have remained with me at a deep level; his course paved the way for a lot of syllabus choices and several book chapters.

—Jeffrey Masten (Ph.D. ’91)
Professor of English and Gender & Sexuality Studies at Northwestern University



I was hired by Bob as senior Renaissance specialist in 1983 after I spent 10 years at Yale. He was a gentleman in all senses of the word, with a wry humor about the oddities of academic governance. His cordiality and support made Penn seem a potential paradise of inclusive departmental democracy. When he announced he was retiring, I said I hoped to see him from time to time, but he said no, when he left he would go completely. I’ve always missed him.

—Maureen Quilligan, R. Florence Brinkley
Emerita Professor of English, Duke University



In over 50 years at Penn, I’ve seen many good teachers, but none to equal Bob Turner. When I first came here, I was assigned to advise undergraduate students, and the consensus among them was that Bob’s classes were the best--not easy, but very, very good. I was especially impressed by the reaction of one young man who had received a C in the class he took with Bob but still said it was his favorite of all the classes he had taken at Penn. After I was assigned to teach the undergraduate Shakespeare course, I repeatedly asked Bob if I could audit one of his classes, but he was very shy and adamantly refused. Unlike many academics, Bob had a way of overestimating others and underestimating himself.

Bob had beautiful Southern manners and a kind, caring, enthusiastic disposition, but his remarkable success as a teacher wasn’t simply because he had an attractive personality. He was a brilliant, subtle reader of literary texts and an exceptionally hard worker. Almost every time I went to the sixth floor of the library to look something up in the Furness Shakespeare Collection, Bob was there, and when I asked him what he was doing, the answer was inevitably that he was preparing for a class. And as far as I know, he was the only professor who returned every paper his students wrote, not only with marginal notes but with a long, carefully considered, typed comment.

—Phyllis Rackin, Emerita Professor of English