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Stanford Report, November 17, 1999

Memorial Resolution: Charles R. Lyons


Charles R. Lyons, the Margery Bailey Professor of English and Dramatic Literature, died at his campus home on May 11, 1999, at the age of 66. Born in Glendale, he was a fourth-generation Californian. After attending Glendale public schools and Glendale Community College, he transferred in 1953 to Stanford, where he completed his A.B., A.M., and Ph.D. As an undergraduate he studied Shakespeare under the legendary Margery Bailey, in whose honor his chair was named.

Although he later established a major reputation as a critic, theorist, and teacher of drama, Lyons' interest in the field started in a practical way during his student days as an actor in Glendale Community College and Stanford University productions. Between 1953 and 1956 he also acted professionally in Los Angeles area theaters. After completing his M.A. in 1956, Lyons spent four years as a Navy lieutenant, serving until 1959 as aide to Admiral P.D. Stroop in the Far East and the following year in Washington, D.C. While completing his Ph.D., Lyons took a position at Principia College, where he taught drama from 1960 to 1968. From 1968 to 1973 he served as Associate Professor, and later Professor, of Dramatic Art at the University of California, Berkeley, where he was department chair in 1971-72 and Associate Dean of Letters and Sciences in 1972-73.

He returned to Stanford in 1973 as chair of the drama department, remaining in that position until 1988 and assuming this position once again in 1995. He was a model leader, shaping a department that pioneered a new concept in the training of doctoral students. This concept focussed upon the notion of what Lyons termed the "scholar-director," who combined both a practical knowledge of all aspects of theater together with a strong background in the history and theory of drama as well as in literary theory. This concept was grounded in Lyons' faith that the historically and theoretically informed student could make a more substantive contribution to theater than those students who, as in most graduate programs of drama, are engaged mainly with practical concerns.

Lyons became increasing concerned with issues of diversity within the arts in general and at Stanford in particular. He created a proposal for a new Institute on Arts and Diversity at Stanford, funded by the James Irvine Foundation. This Institute will bring artists from throughout the state of California to Stanford for quarter-long residencies. During their time at Stanford, the artists will work alongside Stanford faculty and students on projects that will eventually be presented in the artist's home community. At the time of his death, Lyons was slated to be the Director of this new and innovative Institute.

During over a quarter century teaching at Stanford, Lyons directed more than 30 doctoral dissertations. His students occupy key positions in drama departments throughout the United States as well in repertory theaters and the film industry. In 1994, he received the Humanities and Sciences Dean's Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching. Although his efforts during his tenure at Stanford were chiefly engaged with his teaching, research, and departmental leadership, he sought to keep his hand in theater practice, directing memorable productions of John Gay's Beggar's Opera (1975) and Shakespeare's Two Gentlemen of Verona (1978) and Hamlet (1983). In the spring of 1976 he organized a Samuel Beckett festival that included virtually the whole theatrical oeuvre of this major contemporary playwright.

While known in his field for the distinguished doctoral students he produced, Lyons maintained a passion as well for undergraduate teaching. For many years he taught an introductory course in the Shakespeare for the Department of English. During the 1980s he served for three years as director of the required freshman course then known as Western Culture; he continued teaching in Cultures, Ideas and Values as that program emerged. With the introduction of the Freshman Seminar program, Lyons offered a class built around Shakespeare's King Lear. At the time of his death he was planning a two-quarter course to serve as an option within Stanford's current freshman humanities requirement.

Despite his strong commitment to teaching and to the demands of departmental leadership, Lyons was known internationally as a prolific and leading scholar of dramatic literature. His writings encompassed a wide range of dramatists, past and present. Shakespeare and the Ambiguity of Love's Triumph (1971) was based on his Stanford dissertation. Other book-length studies were devoted to Bertolt Brecht (1968) and Samuel Beckett (1983). Lyons took a special interest in Henrik Ibsen and mastered the Dano-Norwegian idiom in which this writer had composed his plays. He published three books on Ibsen, the first (Henrik Ibsen: The Divided Consciousness, 1972) a study of a group of selected plays from different stages of his career, the second (1987) a collection of critical essays, and the third a full-length study of a single key play (Hedda Gabler: Gender, Role, World, 1990). For many years he worked on a larger study of the genre of tragedy that was left incomplete at his death. Lyons' critical writings are notable for their ability to combine the insights of contemporary literary theory with a concrete knowledge and sense of theater.

Lyons' many activities--his writing, his mentoring of students and younger colleagues, his practical theater work, his administrative leadership--were all of a piece, manifesting a clear and self-confidant vision of what the study and practice of drama could and ought to be. He was a person of enormous energy, intensely demanding both of himself and of those around him, yet warm and loyal to all who moved within his large orbit. He continued teaching a graduate seminar until days before his death.

Lyons' survivors include his wife, Leila Phee Lyons, whom he met during the 1950s while she was completing an M.A. in psychology at Stanford, and two sons, J. Christopher and James Charles, currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Drama at Stanford University.

Professor Herbert Lindenberger, Chair

Professor Alice Rayner

Professor Harry Elam