Walsh takes Shakespeare out of the classroom

English professor William Walsh established a Shakespeare Summer Program in 1987. Since then, he has taken more than 500 students to experience Shakespeare in England over the course of 26 years.

“I love watching the young people discover the country,” Walsh said.

A University of California, Riverside graduate, Walsh began his first teaching job at Butler University in 1971 and never left.

“I decided that if I was going to do this for the next 50 years, I would do the best, and so I did Shakespeare,” Walsh said. “I’ve never regretted it. I have a great time selling it to students.”

Walsh said each year he takes approximately 20 students to England for two weeks in the beginning of August.

The students see six Shakespeare plays at the Globe Theatre and New Theatre Royal.  These plays include “Hamlet,” “Twelfth Night,” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Students visit London, Bath, Stratford-upon-Avon and can even spend a day in Paris.  They are given the opportunity to see landmarks such as Stonehenge, Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster.

Each year after they return to Indianapolis, Walsh and his wife, Ellen, invite the students to their home for a wrap-up session.

As a professor and trip facilitator, Walsh said his goal is to be the best he can be while teaching his “beloved Shakespeare to bright-eyed students.”

Derrick Brown, junior English literature and English education major, said he has known Walsh for two years through classes and the Shakespeare trip.

“The amount of knowledge  he has about Shakespeare is just incredible,” Brown said.

He said he loved the laid-back nature of the trip because it allowed him to see so much.

“I don’t tell the students what to do,” Walsh said. “I tell you what you should be seeing, and you make your own plans. Take charge of your own time.”

Melissa Rangel, senior English literature and secondary education major, enjoyed Walsh’s  approach.

“It was honestly the best two weeks of my life,” Rangel said, “with all of the experience you get and all of the Shakespeare plays that you see. I went to Paris for a day just because I could.”

Rangel said her fondest memory of the trip was when they entered London, Walsh and his wife shared their taxi with her and a friend because they knew the girls were frazzled.

“It was something simple but sentimental,” Rangel said.

Junior English creative writing and pharmacy major Katie Johnson has also taken classes with Walsh and went on the Shakespeare trip last summer.

Her fondest memory of the trip was Walsh’s enduring enthusiasm despite the fact that he had been on the trip so many times before.

“He’s got this great enthusiasm for everything,” Johnson said. “It becomes infectious.”

This  enthusiasm is what Johnson refers to as “taking a Dr. Walsh approach to things.”

Having taught at Butler University for 42 years, Walsh’s character has had time to be established, and he is a noted professor by both students and faculty.

“I think he’s passionate, both for his students and the subject matter,” Rangel said. “He’s caring. That goes along with the passion.”

Brown said Walsh’s most admirable quality is his passion for not only Shakespeare but for his job as a whole.

“He really does care about our education, our experiences and our well being,” Brown said.

Johnson noted Walsh’s generous spirit and the way he treats students as equals.

“He acts like one of us while still being intellectually mega-superior,” Johnson said. “He’s like, ‘I have all this knowledge, but I’m not going to hold it over you. In fact, have some.’”

As a colleague, William Watts, associate English professor, said he has known Walsh for 22 years.

“He’s humorous, diligent and lighthearted,” Watts said. “He is in some ways, I think, an example to us all. He is quite a successful teacher, and he also manages to live in harmony with those around him.”

Watts said he has learned from Walsh that you can be serious and do good work without being overbearing.

“One of the things he told me early on that has stuck with me,” Watts said, “and this comes from his expertise in Shakespeare, ‘In life we can either take the tragic or the comic mode. I choose the comic mode.’”

“I think his sense of humor really defines him as a person,” said Jen Wetzel, junior strategic communications and English literature major, who will be attending the Shakespeare trip this summer.

He made the class really entertaining and educational, Wetzel said.

“I think that’s one of the best things I took away from him,” Rangel said. “Being able to relate something so old to something current. “

Walsh teaches several courses, including Introduction to the Discipline of English, Renaissance Literature, 17th and 18th Century Comedy, Romantic Comedy, Global and Historical Studies and Texts and Ideas.

Walsh’s passionate love for Shakespeare is evident to the students in his classes.

“Shakespeare sometimes gets a bad rap for how he writes, but there’re so many different layers to what he writes,” Brown said. “Dr. Walsh is able to study him for so long and still find things out. It’s incredible.”

Walsh’s profound love for Shakespeare and teaching has affected several students and faculty members in positive ways.

“There are people you meet, and there are people who happen to you,” Johnson said. “Walsh is the second kind. He is in and of himself an experience.”

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