Charles R. Forker ’51

Charles R. Forker ’51, professor of English emeritus at Indiana University, died on February 15, 2014, in Bloomington, Indiana.

He was born in Pittsburgh, Pa., on March 11, 1927, and prepared for college at Peabody High School and Western Reserve Academy, where he studied piano and wrote a one-movement piano concerto. He graduated magna cum laude from Bowdoin, a member of Phi Beta Kappa, a James Bowdoin Scholar, and a member of Alpha Tau Omega fraternity. He went on to Merton College, Oxford, where he earned a second bachelor of arts degree as a Fulbright Scholar in 1953 and a master of arts degree in 1955, and then to Harvard University, where he earned a doctorate in 1957. He was immediately drafted into the Army after high school, near the end of World War II, and served to technician third class in the Army Medical Corps First Division in Germany as personal secretary to the division surgeon. He was also assigned briefly to the constabulary in Nurnberg, where he did guard duty for several weeks during the trial of Nazi war criminals. A devoted English literature scholar, he was known to carry a copy of Shakespeare’s sonnets in his pocket. At Bowdoin, he read all of Shakespeare’s works as a special project and acted in four Shakespeare plays as a member of Masque and Gown. In 1957, he joined the English faculty at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where he taught undergraduates in composition and literature for two years. He joined Indiana University in 1959 and rose through the ranks to full professor with tenure. He served as a member of the graduate faculty and director of numerous doctoral dissertations. His favorite course was a large undergraduate lecture class called Introduction to Shakespeare, in which students read a new play every week, fourteen in all. He was frequently invited to lecture at other universities as a visiting professor: University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; Dartmouth College; Concordia University, Montreal; and repeatedly at Colgate University. He held fellowships at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., and the Henry E. Huntington Library in San Marino, Calif. He often returned to Harvard during summers for research at the Widener Library. He spent sabbaticals in London, researching at the British Library and visiting Stratford-upon-Avon to use the Shakespeare Institute library and to attend Shakespearean performances. He published ten scholarly books during his career, four of them after his 1992 retirement, and well over 100 journal articles and reviews. His magnum opus, Skull Beneath the Skin: The Achievement of John Webster (1986), established his reputation as a leading authority on Renaissance drama. A collection of his essays appeared as Fancy’s Images: Contexts, Settings, and Perspectives in Shakespeare and his Contemporaries (1990). He produced four critical editions of individual Renaissance plays with long introductions, apparatus, and commentary: Shirley’s The Cardinal, Marlowe’s Edward II, Shakespeare’s Richard II (the Arden edition), and Peele’s Troublesome Reign of King John. His edition of Richard II (2002) was officially adopted as a required text for all teachers of English throughout France’s secondary schools; as a result, he was invited to lecture at the Université de Caen in Normandy. In Shakespeare: The Critical Tradition (1997), he published an extensive and analytical historical anthology of writings on Richard II, tracing the history of the reception of the play from its initial appearance in 1591 to modern times. He also contributed articles to major reference works, such as The Encyclopedia of the Renaissance, The Shakespeare Encyclopedia, The Greenwood Companion to Shakespeare, American National Biography, and The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. He was a member of the IU Theatre Circle and IU Friends of Music, and he was an active participant in the Bloomington chapter of the National Association of Arts and Letters. He supported the Cardinal Stage Company and the Bloomington Playwrights Project and was an almost fanatical collector of records, CDs, and DVDs. He was a member of Trinity Episcopal Church, where he was once a chorister and where he served for over half a century as acolyte, chalice bearer, thurifer, epistler, and crucifer. He was a member of the Guild of Scholars of the Episcopal Church, a group of lay Anglicans who meet regularly at General Seminary in New York City, and which for six years he led as president. He is survived by his longtime partner, Dr. Lewis J. Overaker; and brothers Dr. Edson Lee Forker and Dr. George N. Forker.

4 Comments Charles R. Forker ’51

  1. Shoshana Bradford

    My favorite professor as an undergrad at Indiana University. I took ever class he taught. He was tough, but so wry and generous in showing appreciation for work well done. Beware his pop quizzes. Hope he’s giving them up in heaven.


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