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Shakespeare with Stephannie Gearhart

Gearhart – Photo by Nia Lambdin

BGSU English professor Stephannie Gearhart asks the question of how plays like Shakespeare reveal one’s hopes, fears and beliefs. She now oversees the planning board for the Ohio Valley Shakespeare Conference.

Gearhart came to BGSU for her undergrad where she started as a Psychology major; however, she switched to an English major after one semester.

“I started off as a Psychology major, but at one point I picked up an English minor and then just switched the two, so I had a Psychology minor and English major. It was something that was intellectually satisfying,” she said.

From that point on, Gearhart was quickly immersed within the English courses and went on to receive her master’s and Ph.D. in English. She has been teaching at BGSU for 15 years.

Within that time, Gearhart had met her husband, Dean of Honors College and Professor of English, Dr. Simon Morgan-Russell. They met in 1995 and have been together ever since.

“One of the greatest things about being married to Dr. Gearhart is that we really communicate very well, because we have a long relationship and because we are interested in the same things and that we can communicate through the plays. I think it’s cool to be in a relationship with someone with whom you can communicate on that level,” he said.

Being the only two professors on campus with a specialization in Shakespeare, both Gearhart and Morgan-Russell talk passionately about the works of Shakespeare.

“We do appreciate Shakespeare, so we watch stuff, have been to the professional theatre to watch Shakespeare and we watch televised stuff. We do make a lot of Shakespeare jokes. In certain circumstances, we will quote Shakespeare,” he said.

Their love for Shakespeare even reaches into their home and children’s lives.

“Our kids, because there’s all this Shakespeare stuff hanging around the house, are happy to read that stuff. They’re only five and eight, but at least the oldest one can read pretty well,” he said.

Gearhart shows such a love for Shakespeare not only through speech, but also through the setup of her office. Warm lights cascade into the room filled with bookshelves containing a vast array of poems, plays and stories. On the wall sits posters of Renaissance artists and a tie hangs from the lights near her computer.

Many of her students are influenced by her passion for Shakespeare. Ash Anteau, a recent graduate of BGSU, had taken Gearhart’s class since her junior year of high school.

“My first class with her, I took while I was still in high school through the College Credit Plus program, so it’s cool to go from my junior year of high school to now. I’ve still been able to have this relationship with her,” she said.

Anteau has relied on Gearhart in more ways than one. Gearhart was her advisor and mentor for both her undergrad and career goals.

“She’s been a really great mentor figure for me throughout my entire undergrad. She was my advisor for my undergraduate thesis,” she said. “As I’m building my career, she’s been really influential in helping me navigate and figured out what looks good for grad school.”

In 2012, Gearhart received the Master Teachers Award, which was no surprise to students because of her passion and willingness to always better their understanding.

“To me, the most gratifying thing is sort of getting students to see that they can read a really hard text and they can engage with very serious questions that I think critics engage with and experts in the field,” she said.

Hannah Boyle, English Literature and Theatre major, described Gearhart as “sweet and very personable,” never turning away a question.

“I took her both semesters because I enjoyed the first class so much and the second class was what really sparked the ‘oh, I think I want to do that’ because she made it so fun and interesting,” she said.

Morgan-Russell sees Gearhart in full as a teacher and person. He said Gearhart is passionate about her work and is really involved in making sure her students are engaged.

“She spends a lot of time thinking about teaching and preparing for teaching. She does enjoy her research which I believe is why she is involved within the Ohio Valley Shakespeare Conference. She loves theatre, performance and literature,” he said.

Shakespeare has been Gearhart’s field of study because it is often requested by her audience. She talked of Shakespeare vividly; however, he is not her favorite artist of the renaissance age. He is just one of her many favorites.

“It is very important to understand Shakespeare in his own context,” she said. “I think Shakespeare is clearly a man of his culture, of his moment, but that’s not to say what we’re going through right now doesn’t make connections.” 

Gearhart teaches Shakespeare in such a way to help her students understand who Shakespeare is and what is known about him. She is making connections through Shakespeare’s time and the 21st-century problems.

“I want them to see how Shakespeare’s plays were speaking to his culture and how they were responding to issues of changes,” she said.

According to the Ohio Valley Shakespeare Conference, William Shakespeare is of cultural significance, and they aim to promote the study of his and other modern dramatists’ works.

Gearhart has been a part of the conference for six years and has usually had the job of reading proposals, organizing panels, and finding venues.

“I’ve been on the board of the Ohio Valley Shakespeare conference since 2015. The president, who is a faculty member at Owens (Community College), reached out to me and asked if I’d be interested in helping with planning,” she said.

Gearhart sees the importance of Shakespeare in today’s culture as revealing one’s innermost self. She says Shakespeare reveals a lot about an individual, but also a lot about culture.

“To me, that is a reason to keep returning to him, because everybody makes something different of him. It’s curious to me what people make of him, how they remake him and how they adapt him. They are also revealing their concerns and biases,” she said.

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