A memorial service will be held at 4:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 31, in the Bechtel Conference Center at Encina Hall for Ronald A. Rebholz, who shared his passion for Shakespeare and other literary greats of the Renaissance with several generations of Stanford students.

6/13/1997 Ronald Rebholz, professor of English

Ronald Rebholz, professor emeritus of English (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

A reception will follow the memorial service.

Rebholz died Nov. 8 of natural causes at Lytton Gardens, a senior living facility in Palo Alto. He was 81. Rebholz, a professor emeritus of English, had been admitted to the facility’s skilled nursing center for physical rehabilitation therapy following a few falls.

Rebholz’s teaching career at Stanford began in 1961, when he was hired as an instructor in the English Department. He became an assistant professor in 1965, an associate professor in 1969 and a full professor in 1978. He retired at the end of the year in 1997, but continued to teach through autumn quarter 2008.

Until recently, Rebholz taught a sophomore seminar on Shakespeare every fall.

Stanford Trustee James Canales, who met Rebholz as a sophomore in 1985 and became a lifelong friend, said Rebholz had the capacity to draw the best from someone in conversation, whether it was in the classroom, over a meal or after a play.

“Unfailingly gracious, Ron knew how to ask that penetrating question that would get you to express a new insight with conviction and confidence,” said Canales, ’88 (English) and ’89 (master’s degree in education). “He was the best kind of professor because teaching for Ron was never about the transmission of knowledge; it was about facilitating your ability to gain that knowledge on your own.”

In a January/February 2003 Stanford magazine story about memorable teachers, Janet Hardy Willson, ’68, wrote:

“Ronald Rebholz took every kid in the room by the collar and rammed us headfirst into the language, the emotion, the meaning and the contemporary relevance of Shakespeare’s work. He did it by reading aloud. When Professor Rebholz started to read, the heavens seemed to open right there in that off-white classroom in the Outer Quad. It was as though each of us were living in the tortured skin of this particular Shakespearean character. I would go back to my dorm room and reread the whole play, trying to recreate what I’d experienced in the classroom. I can still hear the beautiful, booming voice that struck awe and love of language in all our sophomore hearts. It was this voice, and the gutsy intellect behind it, that sparked my lifelong love of stories, reading and theater.”

During his second year at Stanford, English Professor John Bender taught with Rebholz as a section leader on his Renaissance Literature course, which stretched from Thomas More’s Utopia to John Milton’s Paradise Lost.

“It was experience that really changed my sense of what teaching meant,” said Bender, who also is a professor of comparative literature. “Ron had a passion that was just amazing. He loved King Lear and when he was teaching you could really see he was feeling the shattering emotions of the characters’ experiences in that play.”

Bender said Rebholz wrote the definitive critical biography of the 16th-century English poet Fulke Greville, Life of Fulke Greville, First Lord Brooke, which was published by Oxford University Press in 1971.

He also was the author of Thirty-Seven Plays by Shakespeare: A Sense of the Corpus (2006) and Shakespeare’s Philosophy of History Revealed in Detailed Analysis of Henry V and Examined in Other History Plays (2003) and was the editor of The Complete Poems of Sir Thomas Wyatt (1978).

At Stanford, Rebholz was honored for his teaching, his role as director of Writing and Critical Thinking, a program for first-year students (now the Program in Writing and Rhetoric), and for his faculty volunteer services.

During the 1979-1980 academic year, Rebholz received the Lloyd W. Dinkelspiel Award For Outstanding Service to Undergraduate Education.

The citation honored Rebholz “for his years of lively, sympathetic teaching of the Marvels of English Renaissance literature (and the Miltons and the Shakespeares…).” It commended him “for his modesty in welcoming the insights of scholars-in-the-making on a par with his own and for his dogged, devoted and successful leadership in the early struggles to restore the study of Western Culture to the required curriculum.”

Ken Fields, a professor of English at Stanford, said: “What I’ll remember most about Ron Rebholz is the joy he brought to us. I saw it in the faces of advisees when I asked what they were taking – ‘Rebholz’s Shakespeare! Or ‘Rebholz’s Renaissance!’ Always with exclamation points. He was known to be the best lecturer at Stanford, without a scrap of self-promotion. Many of us will remember his laugh and that ready smile with which he greeted us.”

In 1993, Rebholz received the Richard W. Lyman Award for faculty volunteer service from the Stanford Alumni Association. Rebholz was very active with the association and gave lectures at alumni events around the country.

In presenting the Lyman award, former Stanford President Gerhard Casper praised Rebholz for “provocative proof that excellence in teaching need not be limited to the classroom or to full-time student audiences, and for performing magic at the podium with admirers, skeptics and total ‘techies’ whose last encounter with Shakespeare may have been many midsummer nights ago.” The inscription on the award also saluted Rebholz’s “legendary passion for literature and learning and opera (and baseball!)”

Friends said he was an avid fan of the San Francisco Giants and Stanford Football.

Rebholz, who was born in St. Louis in 1932, earned a bachelor’s degree at St. Louis University in 1953 and another bachelor’s degree at Oxford in 1958. He earned a master’s degree (1961) and a doctorate (1965) at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar.

He is survived by his partner of 30 years, Patrick William Smith, of Menlo Park, a technical manager in the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

Contributions in Rebholz’s memory may be donated to the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival.