Carol Rutter – get to know your professor
It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these interviews with staff in Warwick’s English and Comparative Literature Studies department. I first thought of the idea back in my first year, when I realised how different the classroom dynamic at university is compared to sixth form. At university, you’re treated like adult intellectuals, and as such your professors feel more like real people that you talk and work with. Not only do you learn from them, but often they learn from you too. Seminars are about the sharing and creation of ideas.
The department is quite large and it’s often hard to get to know your professors. Therefore this blog series is an attempt to help bridge the gap between student and teacher by learning a bit about them and their job.
You can check out the other interviews here:
Today, we get to know Carol Rutter. I can say from personal experience that Carol is amazing and one of the best teachers I have ever had. She lectured on and led my seminars for Shakespeare and Selected Dramatists of his Time, and it is the best module I have taken at Warwick.
So here’s my interview with Carol:
What is it that you do in the department?
My teaching is concentrated in the area of theatre and performance, from the Greeks to the present, with special attention to Shakespeare, his contemporaries and the practical business of early modern theatre-making. So the plays I have the privilege of reading and teaching every year range from Aeschylus’s Oresteia to Brecht’s Galileo, O’Casey’s The Dublin Trilogy to David Ireland’s Cyprus Avenue, Fugard, Ntshona and Kani’s The Island to O’Neill’s All God’s Chillun Got Wings, Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, Baldwin’s Blues for Mister Charlie, Tarell Alvin McCraney’s The Brothers Size. Then there are some twenty plays by Shakespeare, from The Taming of the Shrew and Hamlet to King Lear and The Winter’s Tale. In the past I have served the administrative work of the department as Admissions Tutor, Director of Undergraduate Studies, and, for five years, Director of The CAPITAL Centre: the acronym stood for ‘creativity and performance in teaching and learning’. CAPITAL was a centre of excellent undergraduate teaching and learning where we developed new enactive pedagogies – including the affectionately named ‘Shakespeare Without Chairs’ programme. CAPITAL has since been incorporated into the permanent structure of the University through IATL, the Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.
Tell us a little about your background and how you came to be working in this field.
I grew up in the beach town on the coast of California that was, in the 19th century, the port of Los Angeles. My parents had migrated there after the war, one a Connecticut Yankee (though born in Cardiff and removed to the ‘new world’ as a six-year old); the other, an Arkansan, raised and educated south of the Mason-Dixon line. So a marriage that brought together interesting histories, points of view, and a determination, almost as pioneers in a southern California entirely undeveloped in post-war America, to raise children who were educated in history (and its legacies of discrimination and prejudice) and in the humanities. I was hooked on Shakespeare from the time my mom took me, my brother and sister up to Los Angeles to see a touring production from England of Macbeth. I’ve never forgotten the Porter.
Why are you interested in academia?
I went up to the newest branch of the University of California, the one built on a sprawling plateau above the Pacific Ocean in San Diego, as a 17-year-old just at the time of the Viet Nam war protests, the black liberation movement, women’s lib, student activism of all kinds outside the lecture theatre, and inside the classroom, books and reading that simply took the top of my head off. (Had I known it, I was in a parallel universe with students at the University of Warwick which, just then, was in its first years, establishing a curriculum, a politics, and a culture of social responsibility.) UCSan Diego was the most exciting place I’d ever been – and I never wanted to leave. So I didn’t. I moved on to the University of Michigan for graduate school. Then, after a couple more moves, crossed the Atlantic, moved to England and came to Warwick. So here I am, five decades later, encountering (again) a sense of ‘it matters’ – it still matters – in the ‘black lives matter’ and MeToo campaigns. And still feeling the astonishing vibrancy that students bring to the reading of literature, to the making of theatre, and to the business of changing the world.
What aspects of literature fascinate you the most?
I like what happens when you put stories on their feet. That’s another way of saying, I love theatre. I love what actors do with words to make ideas matter.
Do you have an achievement that you are particularly proud of?
I have that quotation of the sculptor, Joseph Beuys, written on my heart: ‘To be a teacher is my greatest work of art.’ I am proud to watch what my students – the ‘Warwick mafia’ – are doing in the world today. I’m proud of holding a WATE (Warwick Award for Teaching Excellence) and to have been appointed an NTF (National Teaching Fellow). I’m proud that I achieved the institutionalisation of IATL, to be a permanent site of teaching excellence at Warwick. I’m proud of my most recent publication, Antony and Cleopatra in Performance, and that, after spending twenty years shouting about the ‘whiting out’ of Shakespeare’s black queen Cleopatra in performance, I was able to end my performance history seeing black Cleopatra restored to the British stage.
What are your future goals/aspirations?
Just now I’m working on a biography of Henry Wotton, a contemporary of Shakespeare, sent as ambassador by King James to the Venetian Republic in 1604 to restore Anglo-Venetian relations. So I spend part of every year in Venice, in the Archivio di Stato, working on diplomatic papers, and trying to learn Italian. This project also means finding out much more about early modern education, university training, travel and communications across Europe at the time of the civil wars in France, the role of the private secretary, and just at the moment, the adventure Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, led as a raid on Cadiz. Wotton sailed with Essex on the flagship, Due Repulse, so I’m learning about sea maps and ships’ armaments. My academic goal is to see this book finished. My personal goals involve my orchard, a puppy, and hands-on ‘granny-ing’.