My Shakespeare professor has passed away. Yes, the same man with whom I was so unbelievably upset after my final on Dec. 17. It seems that less than a week after that, just before Christmas, Dr. Steve Cassal of UC Davis suffered a major heart attack. And just like that he was gone.
I received the notification today by email from the head of the English department. Most of us English majors have taken a class from Dr. Cassal (pronounced like "castle"). As much as I didn't enjoy the late works of Shakespeare, Dr. Cassal was a good teacher. He had an evident speech impediment, but never acknowledged that as any sort of disability. He did not apologize. I admired that. After all, what he lacked in eloquence, he made up in clarity of thought and the wisdom of his experience.
It is interesting that, as we studied Shakespeare's late works, he spoke to our class a lot about retirement and death. Both were major themes in Shakespeare's closing masterpieces. That's not surprising. Writers produce by the sweat of their brow, their most profound experiences. All the times that Dr. Cassal mentioned the struggle of reaching the end of a career or even a life... it takes on a deeper meaning now that I realize he was at his end.
Though I'm sure Dr. Cassal would have chosen to teach more if given the chance, his life was well spent because he passionately shared the subject he found to be the most interesting... Shakespeare. His lectures vibrated with the energy of his own mind cartwheeling through the themes and motifs and characters and models developed by one of the most original literary figures of all time. Some of us did not respond as well to those vibrations. But I admired his teaching nonetheless.
And rather than remembering the negatives in our last conversation, I choose to read the positives over and over again. Whether or not he thought I was right about The Winter's Tale, Dr. Cassal thought I was a good writer. I appreciate that. Most of all though, I appreciate him. I just wish I had been able to tell him that.