The College of Steubenville was revamping its entire English Department during the late sixties. Robert Englert was then finishing his master’s degree in British literature at Xavier University in Cincinnati: “One of my profs heard about the vacancy and thought I ought to apply … so I applied, visited, and liked everything about it right off the bat.”
Although Englert was hired in 1967 mainly to teach British classics, he taught many other courses as well. But his greatest enthusiasm was always for The Bard, and he never tired of telling his students why.
“Shakespeare is the pinnacle of English literature. I’d tell them that every day, somewhere in the world, Shakespeare plays are performed, and that doesn’t happen because of us academics. People everywhere recognize that this is the gold standard, that Shakespeare’s plays speak to every problem and concern humans have always had. Even when you don’t appreciate the complexity and beauty of the language, they just make for a great show.”
When Englert was hired, the Drama Department had just been disbanded. Although he had no formal theater training, Englert sensed a vacuum that needed filling. He began holding Shakespeare readings, and from there progressed to staging scenes from various plays. One of the first full-scale productions was The Mad Woman of Chaillot, followed by A Raisin in the Sun. Many Shakespeare plays were also produced in the years that followed.
“It was like having a second job—building sets, obtaining costumes, making programs and posters, and finding enough actors. I begged and borrowed people from the faculty and town. There was a good mix of students and non-students, and everyone benefited.”
Eventually, the University re-introduced a drama program, including professional teachers. Englert was able to step back and concentrate solely on teaching, designing many of his courses.
“It was a wonderful career. I couldn’t have asked for anything better. It’s one of the blessings of a small school. Others have to wait for years before they can teach whatever they like.”
Englert, who retired in 2005, lives with his wife in Cadiz, Ohio. They have three grown children and eight grandchildren.
Originally published in the Spring 2008 Baronette newsletter.