Department of English

University of Toronto

Tributes 2010

The following are excerpts from Greig Henderson’s speech on the occasion of the retirement of John Baird, Linda Hutcheon and Maggie Redekop, The Faculty Club, Thursday, April 8, 2010.

HAMLET AND HIS PROBLEMS: A SUBJECTIVE CORRELATIVE

 “Once again we gather to celebrate the end of term and to pay tribute to our retiring colleagues–John Baird, Linda Hutcheon, Maggie Redekop, and Ruth Harvey. Ruth actually retired last year, but since she was the only retiree, it was thought fit to allow her to undergo ritual humiliation this year.

John Baird’s contribution to our department has been enormous. He has served as Professional Faculties Coordinator, MA Secretary, PhD Secretary, Director of Graduate Studies, and Associate Chair, not to mention his university service as Associate Dean. He has been on every committee you can think of and is an administrator’s dream, as I have had occasion to find out so many times over the past few decades. Academically, he is known for the Oxford edition of William Cowper’s poetry, a study of the career of Richard Watson, a study of formal verse satire in England after Pope, and a study of tea in English literature and culture. But he is also known for his recitations of and talks on William McGonagall, the nineteenth-century Tay Bridge Scottish bard. It is the Tay Bridge bard who will concern us this afternoon.

Who can do justice to Linda Hutcheon’s accomplishments, the honours she has received (among them, University Professor), her major research awards, her editorial work, her professional activities (among them, President of the MLA), her more than sixty graduate supervisions, her department service, and above all her publications–her nine single-authored books, her three co-authored books, her thirteen edited and co-edited books, her translations, her more than 132 journal articles, her 112 chapters in books, her 44 reviews and review articles, her 471 invited lectures and conference papers presented. If this isn’t the Kantian mathematical sublime, I don’t know what is. And she is an exemplary departmental citizen to boot, another colleague who never says no. For today’s purposes, however, you need only keep in mind Narcissistic Narrative: The Metafictional Paradox, The Poetics of Postmodernism, The Politics of Postmodernism, and Irony’s Edge: The Theory and Politics of Irony.

Maggie Redekop is also an exemplary teacher and scholar. Winner of the Victoria University Teaching Award, she has published books on Alice Munro, Ernest Thompson Seton, and Rudy Wiebe, articles on Mennonite literature, Northrop Frye, James Hogg, William Faulkner, and so forth, not to mention her production of countless reviews, stories, encyclopedia entries, conference papers, and readings. She too has done the department some service. For today’s purposes, however, you need only keep in mind her book Mothers and Other Clowns: The Stories of Alice Munro, which for metrical exigencies becomes Moms and Other Clowns, and her book chapter “The Pickling of the Mennonite Madonna.” I have no idea what “The Pickling of the Mennonite Madonna” is about, but it scans beautifully.

Ruth Harvey has also done the university some service as MA Secretary and as Associate Director, Graduate Coordinator, and PhD Secretary of the Centre for Medieval Studies, to mention but a few of her contributions. Among her books and parts of books are The Inward Wits: Psychological Theory in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, The Image of Love, and The Court of Sapience. For today’s purposes, however, you need only keep in mind her articles on “The Swallow’s Nest and the Spider’s Web” and on “The Judgment of Urines,” along with her forthcoming book entitled “The Faithful Messenger: Urine and Uroscopy in the Middle Ages” and a talk she gave on “The Poetry of Urine.” Some parodists would take the high road, but what follows is in some sense a urinary tract.
I call today’s production Hamlet and his Problems: A Subjective Correlative. Sandy Leggatt will play the role of John Baird/Hamlet, Patricia Howard will play the role of Linda Hutcheon/Hamlet’s ghost, and I, stretching the Elizabethan notion of what constitutes a boy actor, will play the role of Maggie Redekop. Alan Bewell will play himself.



CAST:



John:
The Chair speaks shrewdly. He is hatching plans.

Maggie:
He is a nipping and an eager Chair.

John:
What hour now?

Maggie:
I think it lacks of six.
It thus draws near the season
Wherein our mentor held her wont to walk
And manifest her spirit to our eyes.
What sound from yonder barroom gently comes?
Our Chair still talks and this bodes ill for us.
What plans are hatching in his evil brain?
Is something rotten in the state of English?

John:
The Chair doth muse tonight to reck our worth
And dole out PTR to suit his whim,
And as he drains his draughts of Guinness down
Our fates will be determined by and by.

Maggie:
Is it a custom?

John:
Aye, marry, it is.
But to my mind, though I am tenured here
And to the college bound, it is a custom
He more honours in his breeches than his shorts.
His heavy-handed counting takes its toll,
Makes us traduced and mocked by other schools.
They call us pedants, and with swinish phrase
Smirch our position, and indeed it takes
From our achievements, though performed at height,
The pith and marrow of our attribute.

Maggie:
Look, dear John, she comes!

John:
Vice deans and ministers of grants defend us!
Be thou a spirit of health or goblin damned,
Bring with thee pearls from Shakespeare or swine from Freud,
Be thy intents mimetic or postmodern,
Thou comest in such a semiotic shape
That I will speak to thee. I’ll call thee Linda,
Fellow of our royal society.
O mentor of the new pomo regime,
Let me not burst in ignorance, but tell
Why canonized bards, once taught in class,
Have lost their resonance, why parody
That lives at irony’s edge hath sucked them dry,
Hath oped its wry and narcissistic jaws
To eat them whole, those dead and glum white men.

Maggie:
Be prudent, John, these mentors have their wiles.
It’s dangerous to converse with suasive spirits.
What if she tempt you to the MLA,
That fearful meeting at the end of term
Where students squirm in endless interviews,
Which oft unhinge their sovereignty of reason,
And draw them into madness? Think of it.
The very place puts toys of desperation,
Knives of angst, in every candidate
Who yearns to land a plush and tenured post.

Linda:
Mark me!

John:
I will.

Linda:
I am thy department’s conscience,
Doomed for a certain term to teach my classes
Till the bad talks done in my days of reckless youth
Are gone and purged away. But that I am forbid
To tell the secrets of my prison house,
I could a tale unfold whose lightest word
Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy warm blood.
If thou didst ever thy department love,
Revenge a foul and plagiaristic deed.

John:
Plagiarism!

Linda:
Theft most foul, as in the best it is,
But this most foul, strange, and unnatural.

John:
Haste me to know it, that I, with wings as swift
As meditation or the thoughts of love,
May sweep to my revenge.

Linda:
I find thee apt,
And duller shouldst thou be than a dim undergrad
Who drowns himself in beer on Lethe wharf,
Wouldst thou not stir in this. So mark my words.
‘Tis given out that, scheming in his office,
Our chair betrayed us–so all the publications we produced
Are by a forgèd process of his stealth
Now deemed be his. But know, my noble friend,
The villain that did steal our precious work
Soars forth on full but borrowed plumes.

John:
O my prophetic soul. Our selfsame chair.

Linda:
Aye, that perfidious, that degenerate thief,
With witchcraft of his wit, with traitorous gifts,
So as to self-extol, claims as his rightful own
The works of our retiring colleagues.
He even thinks himself a bonny Scot
Perched on the railway bridge of the silvery Tay.

John:
Alas, poor McGonagall. I knew him well.
A bard who waxed so sweet on bridge disasters:
(Recites in a Scottish accent)

Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay
Alas! I am very sorry to say
That ninety lives have been taken away,
On the last Sabbath Day of 1879,
Which will be remembered for a very long time....
Oh! ill-fated Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay,
I must conclude my lay
By telling the world fearlessly without the least dismay,
That your central girders would not have given way,
At least many sensible men do say,
Had they been supported on each side with buttresses,
At least many sensible men confesses,
For the stronger we our houses do build,
The less chance we have of being killed.

Linda:
O what a rogue and outright thief is he.
Is it not monstrous that this chairman here,
But in a fiction, in a dream of passion,
Could steal a Scotsman’s verse from sheer conceit,
Burr in his voice, distraction in his aspect,
And all for nothing?
What’s McGonagall to him or he to McGonagall?
The pickling of the Mennonite Madonna
Is just as apt. Why taketh he the tales
Of moms and clowns, of swallows’ nests
And spiders’ webs? The poetry of urine.

John:
To pee, or not to pee–that is the question.
Whether ‘tis nobler in the crotch to suffer
The pain and cramping of capacious bladder,
Or to unleash a sea of stormy torrents
And by unleashing end them. To void, to smile.
To smile perchance to laugh. O where’s the pub?
For in that flood of bliss what streams may come
When we have shuffled off our moral foil.
Thus voiding doth make comics of us all,
And thus the natural call of micturition
Is answered with a flow of sweet release,
And enterprises of great pain and anguish
With this regard their currents do run loose,
And lose the shame of action.

Linda:
The hour has almost come
When I to operatic bliss succumb
And leave this pedagogic hell behind.
If thou has honour in thee, bear not these crimes.
Let not the sleazy chair of English Lit
Be seat for luxury and vilest theft.
The glowworm shows the chairman to be near,
And starts to pale his ineffectual fire.
Adieu, adieu, adieu! Remember me.

John:
How couldst I not remember thee, dear friend?
But from the table of my memory
I’ll wipe away all trivial fond remains,
All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past,
That youth and observation copied there,
And thy commandment all alone shall live
Within the book and volume of my brain,
Unmixed with baser matter. Yes, by Heaven!
O most pernicious chairman!
O plagiar, plagiar, plagiar, plagiar-ist!
That one may smile, and smile, and plagiarize.
At least I’m sure it may be so in English.
So, Chairman, there you are. Now to my word.

Maggie:
These are but wild and whirling words, my friend.

John:
I’m sorry they offend you, heartily.
Yes, faith, heartily.

Nick Mount conversing with Linda Hutcheon who virtually attended the evening from Paris.



Maggie:
There’s no offense, my friend.

John:
Yes, by Saint Corman, but there is, dear Maggie.
And much offense too, touching this event.
Interpret as you will. And now good people,
As you are friends, scholars, and lecturers,
Never make known what you have seen tonight.
There are more things in heaven and earth, dear Linda,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
The time is out joint. Oh, cursèd spite
That ever I was born to set it right!

Is this a dagger that I see before me?

(Grabs dagger and slays the Chair)



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