Obituary: Maynard Mack, Distinguished Yale Scholar and Literature Teacher

Maynard Mack, the Sterling Professor Emeritus of English and one of Yale's most distinguished scholars and teachers of literature, died at his home in New Haven on March 17. He was 90 years old.

Maynard Mack, the Sterling Professor Emeritus of English and one of Yale’s most distinguished scholars and teachers of literature, died at his home in New Haven on March 17. He was 90 years old.

Mack taught at Yale for 45 years before his retirement in 1978 and was a world-renowned expert in Shakespeare, Alexander Pope and twentieth century literary criticism. In January of 1996, an anonymous donor honored Mack by endowing an English department professorship in his name.

“He was a brilliant and prolific scholar whose work on Pope and Shakespeare was widely admired,” said Ruth Bernard Yeazell, the Chace Family Professor and chair of the English department at Yale. “He was an immensely influential teacher whose work helped make Yale’s English department the pre-eminent English department of his time.”

“He was not only a brilliant lecturer, whose lectures on Shakespeare were unforgettable,” said Eugene M. Waith, a friend and colleague who is the Douglas Tracy Smith Professor Emeritus of English Literature at Yale, “but also a man who had strong principles of education and whose advice was often listened to by the administration of the University.”

Born in 1909 in Hillsdale, Michigan, the son of an English professor at Hillsdale and Oberlin colleges, Mack received his bachelor’s degree from Yale in 1932 and his doctorate, also from Yale, in 1936. As a student, he won numerous awards: the Winston Trowbridge Townsend Prize, the C. Wyllys Betts Prize, the Masefield Poetry Prize, the Andrew D. White Prize and several others. He was president of Yale’s Phi Beta Kappa chapter, editor of the Yale Literary Magazine and Harkness Hoot, and was Class Poet.

Mack joined the Yale faculty as an instructor in English in 1936 and moved steadily through the ranks, becoming a full professor in 1948. He was named Sterling Professor in 1965. During the 1960s, he served as chair of the English department and director of the Humanities division of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

A prolific writer, Mack had many significant publications to his credit, including several on Shakespeare and writers of the eighteenth century. Some of his titles include “King Lear in Our Time” (1965), “The Garden and the City” (1969), “Collected in Himself” (1982), “The Last and Greatest Art” (1984), “Alexander Pope: A Life” (1986), “Prose & Cons: Monologues on Several Occasions” (1989), and “Everybody’s Shakespeare: Reflections Chiefly on the Tragedies” (1993).

As an editor, Mack made major contributions to the field. One of his chief accomplishments is The Twickenham Edition of the poems of Alexander Pope, which has become the standard edition of the poet. In addition, Mack had edited collections of contemporary critical essays on major authors and works: Twentieth Century Views, 143 volumes; Twentieth Century Interpretations, 97 volumes; and New Century Views, 17 volumes.

Throughout his career, Mack was active in professional organizations including the Yale Shakespeare Institute, the Modern Language Association-serving as president in 1970-the Commission of Faculty Affairs of the American Council on Education, the Shakespeare Association of America-serving as president, 1975-76-and the Modern Humanities Research Association. He was director of the National Humanities Institute from 1974 to 1977 and was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a corresponding fellow of the British Academy.

Mack won three Guggenheim Fellowships over a span of 40 years: in 1942, 1964 and 1982. He was twice named senior fellow of the National Humanities Center. During 1959-60, he was Fulbright Senior Research Scholar at the University of London. He was a visiting professor at UC Berkeley; the University of Washington, Seattle; University of Toronto; University of London; Smith College and others. He was senior fellow at research libraries, including the William Andrews Clark Library and the Huntington Library, and was twice named senior research fellow for the National Endowment for the Humanities.

At last count, Mack had been awarded six honorary doctoral degrees.

He is survived by his wife of 67 years, Florence Brocklebank Mack; their three children, Prudence Young of Toronto, Sara Mack of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and Maynard Mack Jr. of Takoma Park, Maryland; and eight grandchildren.

Funeral services will take place on Tuesday morning at St. John’s Episcopal Church, corner of Humphrey and Orange streets. Mack will be laid to rest in the Grove Street Cemetery.

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