thumbnail Shakespeare scholar will have ‘a permanent influence’ on literary studies

E.A.J. Honigmann, former Joseph Cowen Professor of English Literature at Newcastle University, was one of the most innovative and distinguished Shakespeare scholars of his generation.

The story of ‘Clever Moritz’ - his experience of sharing a cot with a chimpanzee as part of his father's reseach as a zoo director - is one of the autobiographical sketches in Ernst's Togetherness: Episodes from the Life of a Refugee (2006).

His father’s Jewish background meant life became intolerable for the Honigmanns in Germany in the 1930s so they moved to Britain in 1935 where seven-year-old Ernst learnt his first words of English.

Ernst went to Glasgow University (1944-48), where he was a student of the great Shakespeare scholar and editor Peter Alexander.

As a postgraduate he went to Oxford to write a B Lit thesis on the chronology of Shakespeare’s plays, and in 1951 became a founding Fellow of Birmingham University’s Shakespeare Institute, returning to Glasgow University as a lecturer from 1954 to 1967.

Following a fruitful year of academic exchange with an American university he moved to Newcastle in 1968 as Reader in English, and two years later was appointed to the Joseph Cowen Chair.

Ernst’s work as critic, textual editor and archival and historical researcher steadily expanded existing knowledge of theatrical cultures in the early modern period, including generating debate which continues today into the possibility that Shakespeare worked as a schoolmaster for a noble Catholic family in Lancashire.

He was prodigiously productive and hard-working to the end, publishing nine monographs, several editions of Shakespeare plays and other texts from the period, and a large number of major articles, one of which has yet to be published. At the same time he was Head of the Department of English Literature for most of his time at the University, and also served from 1976 to 2000 as joint General Editor of the Revels Plays. In 1989 he was elected a Fellow of the British Academy. 

Ernst was a demanding and brilliant teacher, and after his retirement in 1989 his spell-binding public lectures ensured that he continued to be recognised as a major intellectual force in the university. A volume of essays published in his honour for his 70th birthday included ten contributions from the School of English and fourteen from some of the most prominent Shakespeare scholars world-wide, all of whom were his friends. 

His memory and his reputation will be kept alive by friends, colleagues, former students, and the whole scholarly community, and his impact on literary studies in this country is permanent.

Professor Ernst Honigmann was appointed Reader in the Department of English Language on 1 January 1968. He was awarded the Joseph Cowen Chair of English Literature in August 1970 and served as Head of Department during his employment with the University. He retired in October 1989 at which time the title Emeritus Professor was conferred. He died on 18 July 2011 in hospital following a stroke.

This is an extract from an obituary written by his successor to the Joseph Cowen Chair of English Literature, Emeritus Professor John Batchelor.


published on: 25th July 2011