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Kenneth Sprague Rothwell

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Kenneth Sprague Rothwell Obituary
KENNETH SPRAGUE ROTHWELL May 26, 1921 - Nov. 8, 2010 BURLINGTON - Kenneth Sprague Rothwell, Professor Emeritus of English at the University of Vermont, passed away on Monday, Nov. 8, 2010. For much of the past year, he had been a resident of Burlington Rehabilitation Hospital, 300 Pearl Street in Burlington. He was born in Bay Shore, N.Y. (in Suffolk County) on May 26, 1921. He grew up in New York City; Shanghai, China; San Antonio, TX; and then completed high school in Bay Shore. He attended Rutgers University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and on the "GI Bill" earned an M.A. and Ph.D. in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University. During World War II, he served in the Aleutian Islands, as a second lieutenant, rifle platoon leader, in the 159th Infantry on Attu and Amchitka. Subsequently, as a teacher of English, he held full-time appointments at the Universities of Rochester, Cincinnati, Kansas, and came to the University of Vermont as department chair in 1970. He also taught summer sessions at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and Trinity College. 40 years ago, he incorporated Shakespeare on film into his teaching, at a time when such practices were considered faintly disreputable, especially by the older generation, a "dumbing down" of the bard, so to speak. He did not begin his real career as a Shakespeare scholar until he was 55 years old, prior to that having been a director of Freshman composition and author of a textbook, Questions of Rhetoric (published by Little Brown). He co-founded and coedited with Bernice W. Kliman The Shakespeare on Film Newsletter (1976), cochaired the Shakespeare on Film Seminar at the Tokyo 1991 World Shakespeare Congress, and produced a three-day Shakespeare on Film Festival at the 1996 World Congress in Los Angeles. He edited Shakespeare on Film IV: Papers from the World Shakespeare Conference 1981), and with Annabelle Meltzer he compiled Shakespeare on Screen: An International Filmography and Videography (1990). In 1999, the Cambridge University Press published his A History of Shakespeare on Screen: A Century of Film and Television, a scholarly work, which was favorably reviewed world-wide in learned journals and appeared in a 2004 second edition. He became a contributing editor to Shakespeare Bulletin and a member of the editorial board of Literature/Film Quarterly. Along the way, he contributed essays in his specialty to the Encyclopedia Britannica and to the 2003 Blackwell multivolume Companion to Shakespeare Studies. In 2000 when he was 79, his plenary lecture at the International Conference on Shakespeare Movies held at the University of Malaga, Spain, was honored by being printed as the annual "occasional paper" by the International Shakespeare Association in Stratfordupon-Avon, England. He also lectured at the University of Rouen, France; and the City University of New York. His most recent public lecture (on 12th Night) was at St. Michael's College in Jan. 2005 for which he was honored with a College medal. He chaired the College Section of the National Council of Teachers of English, published widely in professional journals such as Shakespeare Survey, Shakespeare Quarterly, Comparative Drama, Cineaste, and presented many papers at national and regional meetings, two of which were published by the Modern Language Association in volumes devoted to the teaching of King Lear and Hamlet. As a teacher at UVM, he rejected identity politics and dogma about Shakespeare being "another dead white European Male." Instead, he sought to inculcate in his students the same enthusiasm and fervor for literature that he felt, though in his personal politics he remained steadfastly committed to the world-wide struggle for peace and social justice. Despite his tendency toward "political incorrectness," he was nevertheless thought well-enough of by his younger peers to be nominated by petition in 1999 for Presidency of the Shakespeare Association of America, though to his vast relief being then nearly 80 years of age, he failed of election. He received two awards for distinguished teaching at the University of Vermont, travel grants from the International Shakespeare Association, a research grant from the American Philosophical Society, and several University research grants. In 1992, he was elected a Fellow of the Vermont Academy of Art and Sciences. Locally, he served on the Vestry of St. Paul's Cathedral and briefly as Diocesan Registrar. Governor Madeleine Kunin appointed him Supervisor of Buel's Gore and Governor Howard Dean to the Board of the Vermont Council for the Humanities. A long time member of The Neighbors, he also formerly belonged to the Mallett's Bay boat club and Burlington Tennis Club, where he valiantly, but ineptly, sought laurels as an athlete. He loved sailing on Lake Champlain and playing tennis with his cronies; and visits to his New York City Pied a Terre. He especially treasured time spent with his regular lunch groups. As a last hurrah, he published editions of The Merchant of Venice in 2008 and in 2010, King Lear. He was predeceased by his loyal and beloved wife of 50 years, Marilyn Gregg Rothwell. He is survived by his son, Kenneth Jr. and daughter-in-law, Pamela Jones of Newton, Mass.; a daughter, Mary Carroll Rothwell Davis and son-inlaw, Evan Davis of New York City and Westport, N.Y.; a daughter, Elizabeth Gregg Rothwell of South Royalton; a daughter, Anne Gregg Rothwell of Burlington and New York City; and five grandchildren, Rosalind Springs Rothwell, James Waddell Rothwell, Sara Mei-Ping Davis, Charlotte Davis, and Phoebe Davis. Another child, Sara, died in infancy and is memorialized by a tree on the UVM campus. He is also survived by his ex-wife, Beverly Wool of Burlington. Services are planned at St. Paul's Cathedral on Saturday, Nov. 20 at 2 p.m. A reception will follow at St. Paul's. There are no visiting hours. Interment of ashes will be in the churchyard of St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Westchester Square in the Bronx, New York City, at a date to be determined. Contributions in his memory may be made to The Lyn Gregg Rothwell Nursing Scholarship Fund at the University of Vermont, c/o Development and Alumni Relations, 411 Main Street, Burlington, VT 05401. To send online condolences, please visit

Published in The Burlington Free Press on Nov. 10, 2010
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