Isabel Taylor ’21

Seth Lerer headshotThe English Department recently had the honor of hosting Seth Lerer, a Distinguished Professor of English at the University of California – San Diego. Professor Lerer gave a guest talk at the most recent first thursday workshop, made an appearance at Treat Night the day before, and even visited Professor Penelope Geng’s Shakespeare classes. Fittingly, the topic of Professor Lerer’s first thursday talk was “Shakespeare’s Lyric Stage: Music, Myth and Metamorphosis in the Late Plays.”

Treat Night was a casual affair, with students gathered in the fourth floor lounge of Old Main. As Professor Geng prompted questions, Professor Lerer spoke on an eclectic mix of subjects—from the history of pet ownership to the bias of citations, to the daily struggle of us English majors—namely, using said majors to get a job after graduation. Professor Lerer also spoke of his own background as a son of immigrants, and of the less career-focused years of his study at Wesleyan University. Professor Lerer’s background in critical theory came in handy as he examined the colonial roots of the Oxford English Dictionary. He also probed the room with questions, asking such stumpers as, “What makes you happy?”

first thursday workshopAt the first thursday presentation, Professor Lerer proved as apt at lecture as conversation. Pacing around the Harmon Room, he asked us to consider the literary criticism of an Elizabethan lutist who was struggling with the motives and demands of artistry. This struggle, Professor Lerer explained, was brought to bear in the character of Ariel from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The “metamorphosis” was explained through a worker bee metaphor that appeared in both a poem about the lutist and a speech Ariel gave. Professor Lerer’s background in comparative literature was apparent as he deftly tied together these media in a compelling lecture. Throughout the presentation, his joking provoked raucous laughter from the crowd.

I am lucky enough to be enrolled in Professor Geng’s Shakespeare class, which Professor Lerer visited to talk about Othello, our current play of study. During the class, Professors Lerer and Geng carried on a joint seminar, occasionally playing devil’s advocate to each other. After a few readings, Professor Lerer asked us to consider the romantic nature of Othello’s character, especially how Shakespeare made early modern audiences fall in love with the character despite—or perhaps because of—his “otherness.”

Throughout Professor Lerer’s visit, his audiences in the English Department were excited to hear him speak. Thank you to everyone who attended Professor Lerer’s talks. Even though we all appreciated the pizza at Treat Night and the soup at first thursday, everyone who attended knows that Professor Lerer’s presence was the real treat.