Maynard Mack ’32 GRD ’36, a scholar of Shakespeare and Pope known as much for his caring manner as his renowned lectures and ability to bring literature to a wide audience, died Sunday at his New Haven home. He was 90 years old.
Known as an inspirational teacher and colleague, Mack left a legacy which included legendary lectures on Shakespeare, a reputation as a respected voice on educational issues and the Directed Studies program, which he helped found.
The son of an English professor in Michigan, Mack’s life at Yale began in 1928 as an undergraduate, where he made a name for himself as a prize-winning poet, later becoming president of Yale’s Phi Beta Kappa chapter, editor of the Yale Literary Magazine and the Class Poet.
Upon graduation, Mack entered graduate school at Yale, beginning what was to become a 45-year career as an inspirational teacher of English. After beginning as an instructor in 1936, Mack became a full professor in 1948 and a Sterling professor in 1965. In 1996, 18 years after he retired, an anonymous donor endowed an English department professorship in his name.
Widely respected as both a writer and editor, Mack published several works on Shakespeare, Alexander Pope and 18th-century writers. The Twickenham Edition of the poems of Alexander Pope, one of Mack’s chief accomplishments as an editor, became the standard edition of Pope’s work.
Among Mack’s greatest achievements was bringing literature to a wide audience, including many who would later become his colleagues.
Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead ’68 GRD ’72, who studied with Mack as a graduate student and later worked with him in the English department, recalled Mack as part of his earliest memories as an English student. Brodhead’s first experience with Hamlet was watching a movie introduced by Mack, and the first modern poetry anthology Brodhead read was edited by Mack.
“I’m sure my experience must be characteristic for many people,” Brodhead said. “He was really one of the giants of literary study of the last century. He had a genius for bringing literary works to a larger public.”
Eugene Waith, an English professor who had known Mack since graduate school, said Mack was influential both as a scholar and an educator whose ideas were noticed outside the department.
“He was absolutely a great lecturer on Shakespeare,” Waith said. “The other thing that was very important about Maynard Mack was that he had a lot of ideas about education which people paid attention to.”
Active in both Yale and professional circles, Mack was influential in the Yale Shakespeare Institute, the Commission of Faculty Affairs of the American Council on Education and the Modern Humanities Research Association. He served as president of the Modern Language Association in 1970, the Shakespeare Association of America from 1975-76, and director of the National Humanities Institute from 1974-77.
The recipient of six honorary doctoral degrees in his lifetime, Mack was a three-time Guggenheim Fellowship winner, a Fulbright Senior Research Scholar and a senior fellow at several research libraries.
Scholars who did not study with Mack nonetheless cited him as a role model who inspired those around him.
“I was not ever his student, but one could not help but be his student in the larger sense,” English professor Leslie Brisman said. “Unlike some other great men, he never gave you the sense that he had a private instrument that no one else could play. He made it seem as though the kind of work that he did was possible for any intelligent generous spirit.”