Rebecca Munson passed away on Friday, August 13th. Rebecca was a recent (2015) graduate of our PhD program, and had been working as Assistant Director for Interdisciplinary Education at Princeton’s Center for Digital Humanities. The Center has published a memorial notice, https://cdh.princeton.edu/updates/2021/08/15/rebecca-munson/.
A contribution from James G. Turner.
After hearing the shocking news I looked through hundreds of Rebecca’s emails, term papers, dissertation chapters, research updates, and more personal memorabilia like photographs from a visit to London and a mushroom brush that she found for me in Tuscany – how typical, as she was equally gifted at hunting for scholarly truffles and brushing them up into an orderly dish. Everything reminded me how splendid she was, how original, how lucid, how mature, how enthusiastic. Her work was material in every sense, significant for our understanding of literature in the world, rooted in the reality of play-going and play-reading, aware of every ink-stained hand that wrote marginalia in books and every playwright, poet or polemicist who echoed Shakespeare and transformed his memory little by little. She took charge, and would bring energy and delight to everything she touched. Her writing shone with flashes of wit. Exploring the implications of Shakespearean echoes during the Civil War or the Restoration, she showed how “the history play” influenced “the play of history.” After immersing herself in Habermas, she cunningly located King Lear in the “Irrational Public Sphere.” Riffing on Hamlet’s “Stay, illusion!” she crafted the brilliant title for her reception history, “Stay, Allusion!” I wish she could have stayed.
A contribution from Oliver Arnold.
The first memory that came to me after hearing the terrible news was of Rebecca telling me about an idea for a new class. She planned to divide her students into rival theater companies, which would not only study but, as nearly as possible, engage in all of the work and activities of early modern theater companies and strategize about how to compete for customers by developing a distinctive style and repertoire. I thought then—and still think—that this is the smartest idea anyone has ever had for a course, but what is indelible for me is the intense pleasure, the positive glee with which Rebecca spoke about how much the students would learn, how much fun it would all be, and how excited she was to have figured out a way to share her love for early modern plays and the messy business of staging them. Rebecca was buoyant and very funny, but her exuberance was, it seemed to me, mixed with shyness, and one of the many things that I admired about her—in addition to her brilliance, her commitment, her resilience, and her just plain goodness—was the way her desire to share her loves and enthusiasms beat out that shyness. Even in a season of cruel loss, this loss hit especially hard.