Though it appears a little out of fashion, there is much care and valour in this professor.
By Natalie Crnosija
The only place one would expect to find a Barnes & Noble Classics Edition of Henry V or Titus Andronicus at Stony Brook University would be at the campus bookstore—not under the editorship of a university professor.
At SBU, which touts its scientific conquests on-campus, off-campus and abroad, achievements in the humanities seldom make the shuffle of advertisements on the university homepage. Despite its low profile, Stony Brook’s English department is populated by many published and publishing professors, including Professor Benedict S. Robinson, with his most recent editorship of Henry V and Titus Andronicus.
Robinson, 36, is an associate professor and, apart from his Barnes & Noble publications, has authored numerous articles analyzing Renaissance drama and poetry.
“I didn’t always like Shakespeare,” said Robinson in his office in the SBU Humanities building. The walls were dotted with postcard-size portraits of Elizabethans, and a single playlist hung by the computer with a Velvet Underground song near the bottom. “I got into Shakespeare pretty late in life, but I was always a reader.”
Robinson, a native of South Bend, Indiana, planned to study 20th Century Literature as he neared the end of his undergraduate career at the University of Chicago. A single class peaked Robinson’s interest and made him switch his focus towards the Renaissance.
“It was a really late decision,” said Robinson. “I remember some of my recommendations still said I was going to study Modern Literature.”
Robinson studied Renaissance Literature at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences under Shakespeare expert Professor James Shapiro. Shapiro, a winner of the Theatre Book Prize and a Fulbright lecturer, said that, after two years into Robinson’s dissertation, the two spoke as equals.
“Ben is a brilliant scholar and a talented editor…with a fine sense of drama and Shakespeare in relation to his moment,” said Shapiro. It is this type of expertise that Barnes & Noble, Inc. looks for in editors of the Classics Edition said Alan Kahn, a member of the corporation’s Classics department.
“It is important for editors to add to the readers’ learning experience through their own insight,” said Kahn.
Robinson’s specific field of study is the representation of Islam in Renaissance literature. The European prejudice of perceived Islamic militancy was the subject of Robinson’s dissertation, “The Romance of the East: Islam and English Literature after the Reformation.” The dissertation was expanded into his book, “Islam and Early Modern English Literature: The Politics of Romance from Spenser to Milton,” published in 2007.
Publication is a requirement for tenure in SBU’s English department, where Robinson has been teaching for almost seven years. The other two criteria are teaching and service said Professor Stephen Spector, chair of the SBU English department.
Robinson has published articles through Columbia University Press, Cambridge University Press and University of Pennsylvania Press, through which he edited Textual Conversations in the Renaissance: Ethics, Authors, Technologies with Professor Zachary Lesser in 2006.
Robinson’s most recent editorial work can now been seen on the shelves of Barnes & Noble Booksellers.
“The editorship [of the Barnes & Noble Classics] was just something that happened,” said Robinson quietly. He did not elaborate further.
“Professor Robinson is a very decent, modest and honest,” said Spector, who was a member of the board who hired Robinson. “He agreed to be director of the undergraduate English program because he knew we needed it.”
Robinson will be replacing Professor Bente Videbaek, the current undergraduate director of the English department, at the end of the Spring 2009 semester. As the undergraduate director, Robinson will be the advisor for nearly 500 undergraduate English majors at SBU.
“The great thing about Professor Robinson is that, when he is lecturing, he is so focused and it is like there is nothing else in the world but Shakespeare,” said Junior Darla Gutierrez. “It’s amazing.”
Robinson, who was first attracted the analytical aspect of literature study, has grown to enjoy teaching.
“I had to get over the initial fear of public speaking,” Robinson said. “I like to sit and think about literature and I’d like to think I’m not alone in that. I love when people get excited in class and have ideas.”
As the new undergraduate director of the English department, Robinson will have to balance his own work and the position of an English program director in a science research university.
“It’s a little weird,” said Robinson and smiled. “But maybe they’ll let me use the particle accelerator.”